Inside the all-Balinese, grass-roots political movement trying to take back the island.
It was bound to happen. You can only push a people so far and damage a place so bad before there’s blow-back. The Tolak Rekalamasi movement – a Balinese grass roots environmentalist and antidevelopment campaign – appears to be it. “A lot of people think Balinese just sit back, relax and be lazy … but after this it’s actually creating a movement and solidarity ‘cos we love the island and we don’t wanna let it get ruined,” explains Mega Semadhi, the Hindu priest from Bali’s Bukit Peninsula and two-time winner of the Rip Curl Cup Padang. What began in 2014 in response to plans to develop the sacred Hindu site at Benoa Harbour on the island’s east coast, has today become a catch-all for Balinese angry at the greed, corruption and environmental degradation running roughshod over the island and its people. “After this Reklamasi thing people look after the environment more. It is affecting them, like, ‘Oh, we have to look after the island more.’ They realise we stand together and we have to be aware of our environment and our area,” says Mega. Led by banjars from across the island along with a handful of Bali’s leading activists and celebrities, including punk rock legend, Jerinx, from Superman Is Dead and Robi Suprianto, from Navicula, the movement is shaping up as a watershed moment in the fight to save Bali. “(It’s) the biggest in history and the longest too,” Jerinx tells Tracks, adding of the motivation, “It’s the accumulation of so many injustice towards local people in Bali. And this case (Benoa Harbour) displays everything we’ve been desperately fighting against since Soeharto became president – top level conspiracy, corrupted government, heartless tourism industry, etcetera,” he says. Being an activist in Indonesia is dangerous work. This is a country which slaughtered up to a million left-leaning students, civilians and politicians during the 1965 CIA-backed rise of military dictator turned president, Soeharto. In the 20 years since Jerinx first took to the streets in protest against Soeharto, he and his followers
have been the subject of numerous death threats and attempts on their life, including a friend who had acid thrown at his face in a Javanese hotel lobby, in an attack that was meant for Jerinx. “When you’re standing up against greedy investors or fascism, they always have military or powerful figures behind them, and it’s been proven. Farmers got shot protecting their land. Students kidnapped after protesting against greedy investments. Some never found. Some dead,” he says. The Tolak Reklamasi showdown is shaping up much the same with the infamous Indonesian businessman Tommy Winata lurking in the background. “In our perspective he’s like the ‘real’ Indonesian president. He’s got the army, intelligence, police and, of course, our ‘official’ presidents behind his back,” says Jerinx. The statistics make for sobering reading. So far more than half of Bali’s 400 rivers have run dry, leading experts to declare Bali is in the midst of a “water crisis.” That might sound impossible for an island drenched by annual monsoons and flooding but without recharge wells to redirect the downpours back underground much of it is wasted. Meanwhile, as much as 65 percent of Bali’s fresh groundwater continues to be drawn out of the aquifer by the tourism industry via high-tech bore systems, whereupon it is pumped into hotel rooms, villas, golf courses and the countless construction projects across the island. Hotel rooms and villas alone consume some 3000 litres of water, much of it in the form of excessive showering and washing. As the fresh water gets used up, salt water has begun pouring into the aquifer in its place, compounding the problem. “Coastal areas where aquifers continue to be over-exploited will suffer further leakage of salt water into groundwater, which is forever non-reversible, meaning total dependence on expensive desalination plants to treat seawater for Bali residential, agriculture and tourism water supplies,” explains Ida Bagus Putu Bintana, a civil engineering researcher at the University Politknik Negeri Bali. “The more tourism goes up, the more the level of the water table goes down,” adds Julian Goalabre, a spokesperson for IDEP, an NGO monitoring Bali’s water problem. “So in the short term, water is not a problem. But in the long term it will be a much bigger issue because the water table is going down, and in all coastal areas there is salt water intrusion.” Of the rivers that haven’t run dry, many more are clogged with the 11,000 cubic tonnes of waste that’s left uncollected on the streets of Bali each day – much of which flows straight into the ocean during the wet season. The results have been well documented and the need for a solution is urgent, says Balinese pro surfer, Betet ‘Da Guy’ Merta. “It’s pretty fucked up. Pretty much we understand, the local surfers understand what is going on, because we need to protect the beach, the surfer protect the beach because we live in the beach, so if the beach die we die too,” he says. “But the taxi driver, he don’t care about surfing. The guy in the restaurant he throw (rubbish) in the river. It’s hard. They don’t use the ocean. They don’t care. Not a lot of Indonesians surf… People come from Java, from all over the country, and just trash the beach… I see people just empty their cars at the beach,” he says. Then there are the waves, several of which have been ruined, privatised or put under serious threat by rampant coastal development around the island. The latest is Serangan, the uber-consistent, sometimes world class reef break on Bali’s east coast, which was recently cut off to the public
pending the construction of a 500 hectare so-called “eco-development,” which will include a harbour for luxury yachts, luxury villas, and a space age auditorium where “authentic” Balinese culture and dance can be viewed by wealthy guests. “The coastal community has both the ecological and the socio-cultural potentials to become a lucrative tourist destination in an environment where tourism flourishes,” reads the website of its Singapore-based developer. Along with Serangan, the world class triple barrel right hand reefbreak near Nusa Dua, called Nikkos, has all but been destroyed by a break wall built at the foot of the take off spot. The wave is now rife with deadly backwash, making it unpredictable, dangerous, and closer to three separate sections instead of one triple section drainer. Keramas is also said to have been affected by a seawall built through the river that feeds the wave by a Jarkata-based landowner neighbouring the wave. A short drive from Keramas another hollow right reef, which we’ve chosen not to name, has also been affected by a seawall built along the shore to protect luxury villas from coastal erosion. Tracks has also seen plans for a large scale development at Canggu, including a jetty built straight through the right-hand river mouth reef break previously used as the back-up venue for the World Junior Championships. A recent protest against the plans attracted hundreds of local and travelling surfers, while between 50 and 60 people took part in a paddle out. It remains unclear whether the planned jetty through the wave will go ahead. “Project still on. Jetty is hopefully off,” the Bali-Based Asian Surfing Tour president, Tipi Jabrik, wrote to Tracks via email, adding of the local surfing community, “We only care to save the wave, if the project doesn’t harm the wave it’s all good.
“Villages have their right to do any development but it must be in the right ways. The waves are their assets too,” he wrote. Balinese pro surfer, Marlon Gerber, warned to expect more and more over the coming years as tourism on the island pivots away from its traditional surfing roots. “Bali right now, they want the masses of buses and Chinese,” he says. “Like Pandawa beach (near Nusa Dua, also the scene of a monolithic development project). They want all the beaches like that because it brings a lot of cash. At Nyang Nyang they’re carving out the cliff so buses can drive down there. They had 300 steps but now this beautiful limestone cliff has been carved out with roads going down there to target those people, the busloads,” he says. In destroying some of the island’s best waves and polluting the others, Bali risks killing the goose that laid the golden egg but Marlon says that doesn’t rate a mention with the money-hungry powers that be. “Of course the wave is not their priority they don’t even realise they’re affecting this wave. They’re just thinking people, mass tourism and money. I don’t think they realise what they’re doing to the waves,” he says. It’s not just surfers feeling the pinch. Locals too are suffering more than ever as pressure on the island’s environment and infrastructure continue to mount. “The effects on the people – they’re stressed here now because there is so much development, there is pressure, it creates anxiety for them and I feel that too from living here, but luckily my main focus is surf, so I’m not really in that race but for other people I see it with my friends, to take advantage of this boom that Bali is going through right now. It creates stress you know,” says Marlon. Tolak Reklamasi is shaping up as Bali’s only hope and Marlon, whose friends are in the organising committee, says people are ready to shed blood for it. “If this happens, this Tolak Reklamasi at Benoa, there is gonna be blood. I’m sure the people are gonna fight, the locals are gonna fight for this one,” he says.
Beneath the commercial veneer, Bali’s cultural roots still run deep. A Balinese troupe performs a traditional Kecak dance.
Main: Canggu has long been a proving ground for local rippers, a staple for travelling surfers and a clip factory for the world’s best. Now it’s also under threat from a breakwall development.
Left: Nikkos reef reeling in the shadow of cranes before a breakwall all but destroyed it.