Millions of tourists head to Bali, but are their demands on the island's environment and resources also threatening its very future?
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - 21:30

Millions of tourists head to Bali each year for its pristine beaches and beautiful scenery, but are they also threatening the island's entire future?

David O'Shea visits a site not on the tourist trail, nicknamed Mount Rubbish;  the huge pile of waste generated in part by the island's visitors is now poisoning drinking water.

Locals say it's just one way they're under threat... the demand for the island's limited water supply is also threatening their farming industry and traditional way of life.

Elsewhere, land prices have increased by 1000% in five years, and plans to reclaim land in Benoa Bay for a vast tourist development are causing huge controversy.

But with tourism also so important to Bali's economy, how can the competing demands be met?

Find out more about the people who helped David with his story, including conservation group Sawah Bali and Bali Not for Sale artist Sayur, by following the links below.



As we continue to shiver through winter, you can be excused for thinking a short holiday somewhere warmer would be a good idea. Well, why not Bali? As David O'Shea reports, that tropical island that so many Australians love is now so popular that, according to many of the locals, their very way of life is under threat. Here's David.

REPORTER: David O'Shea


This is the Bali that tourists flock to see. But this year, the tiny island will be besieged by more than 10 million visitors - almost three times the local population. It's a huge stress on resources - for land to build hotels and private villas, for water to service them, and for somewhere to put all the rubbish. Environmental activist Moko is taking me to a site that's not on the tourist trail.

REPORTER (Translation): What's this mountain called?

MOKO (Translation): Mount Rubbish. Kids used to draw pictures of the sun rising behind green mountains. Now it's a mountain of rubbish

Many thousands of cubic metres of waste is dumped here every day. The toxic run-off filters into the ground water which is the source of much of south Bali's drinking water.

MOKO (Translation): We are being poisoned by this pile of rubbish.

With no real action by the Government to address the garbage problem, Australian Mike O'Leary formed a foundation to promote environmentally sustainable development. It's a small effort, but one he hopes will eventually lead to a change in mindset.


MIKE O'LEARY: So, here, you can see we do waste management, pick-ups, beach clean-ups and stuff. Everyone in the local community is allowed to drop their waste here if they want. Here we teach the importance of separation of recycled plastics, non-recyclables plastics, cardboard, metals.

For O'Leary, garbage is not the only problem, he says Bali's development is based on exploitation.


REPORTER: That's the Ritz Carlton.


MIKE O'LEARY: Yeah, that's the Ritz Carlton. Just goes on and on and on and you have got like 3,000 underpaid workers here living in Shanti towns. We'll go in. See how they live. How's this? It's like something back in the dark ages. These million, billion dollar deals and you don't think that they could look after them a little bit better? Have a look at the waste under here.

His foundation also runs a micro project teaching traditional weaving. It's an attempt to address the lack of opportunity for those without the education and language skills to find employment in the booming tourism sector.

WOMAN (Translation): I used to grow seaweed but now, with all the development the seaweed has all been destroyed.

REPORTER (Translation): Why?

WOMAN (Translation): Because the effluent from hotels is discharged into the sea. All the coral and seaweed have died.

Many Balinese now believe that keeping culture and traditions strong could well be their last defence. Every year, hundreds gather at this sacred temple to pay homage to their ancestors. Possessed by their spirits, some enter a deep trance, ceremonies like this cement key Balinese values of living in harmony with each other, with God and with the natural world. The holy water sprinkled on the devotees plays a vital ceremonial role. This gift from the Gods is also a crucial life-giving force in this rice-based culture.

Water for rice paddies is delivered through this ancient and very efficient canal system called the Subak. It's so important to Balinese culture it was World Heritage listed in 2012 because with all the development, it's under threat.

MAN (Translation): If there is no water we all die; Please don't take all the water from the springs to sell to hotels. That's what we are asking.

REPORTER (Translation): Are there lots of hotels up there?


MAN (Translation): Yes there are. There are lots of hotels. That's why they've already taken some of our water. If possible the rest shouldn't be taken.

The water in this canal irrigates almost 50 hectares of communal rice paddies. The competition for water is one thing - keeping productive land in Balinese hands is another. Rather than constantly struggling against developers, many farmers simply sell their land to them - with prices skyrocketing 1,000% in the past five years, it's hard to resist.

MAN: We're very glad to see you here in the second Indonesian Hotel Investment Conference, the response has grown each year, I think as the property market has continued to grow in Bali, welcome to the stage please if you would, Ibu Wiryanti Sukamdani.

Sukamdani is owner of a hotel chain, a member of Parliament and head of the Indonesian hotel and restaurant association.

IBU WIRYANTI SUKAMDANI, INDONESIAN HOTEL AND RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION: Our target for the foreign tourists in 2014 is 9. 3 million. Bali is also very interesting because it's going to be 67 new hotels. I don't know anymore where these hotels will be built because we don't have rice fields anymore.

There are many here today that have cashed in on Bali's tourism boom, but former Tourism Minister, I Gede Ardhika, tries to sound a warning.

GEDE ARDHIKA: The tourism industry, don't be greedy.

He reminds the conference of the United Nations' millennium goals set for Indonesia.

GEDE ARDHIKA: Basically what the UN expects from us is a shift of paradigm in development.

Applying UN goals to limit development seems like a lost cause. There is no better example than the Benoa Bay land reclamation project in the heart of the tourist south. It's a controversial plan to dredge the bay then build and develop nine islands in an integrated tourism park over 800 hectares. Gendo Suardana is leading a coalition opposed to the development.

GENDO SUARDANA (Translation): Reject Reclamation!! Now we'll test who is in the right. Those who are pro reclamation or us - who are standing up to reject reclamation. This is the master plan. Hotel, villa, villa, villa, villa, floating villa, villa, floating villa, villa, villa, resort hotel, resort hotel, apartments, shops, mall, mall, some offices, shops. We suspect this G means golf but they say its green space.

MADE PASTIKA, BALI GOVERNOR: We need jobs, we need new icons of tourism in Bali.

Bali's Governor, Made Pastika, who as police chief played a key role in investigating the Bali bombings, is an enthusiastic supporter of the land reclamation.

MADE PASTIKA: We have to widen our area, we have to widen. That's a must. Everywhere in this world they're doing that. Singapore, Hong Kong. I think Australia is too. Even though Australia is very wide, everyone wants to widen their area - why not? As long as it's not against the environment - it will not damage the environment.

But Benoa Bay is a designated conservation area so there's a push to get the President to sign a regulation removing that status.

GENDO SUARDANA (Translation): Rezoning the conservation area for public use, that's where the danger lies. The government is aggressively...

REPORTER (Translation): Now?


GENDO SUARDANA (Translation): Yes. Trying to change the rules to rezone the conservation area.

And everyone within the tourism and development community, there's concern about the project.

IBU WIRYANTI SUKAMDANI: The point is that it is damaging the environment, you know. So that's not the answer. The answer to me is that you have to really control the building, control how many hotels, how many rooms, you know, without damaging the environment so by reclaiming is only damage.

Governor Made Pastika has been the subject of intense criticism because of an open letter he wrote three years ago calling for a moratorium on hotel construction in south Bali.


REPORTER: Some of your critics say you broke your own rules by then supporting some hotel development project. What would you say?

MADE PASTIKA: No I never broke my rule. I never allow people building new accommodation, you know, especially in the southern part of Bali. You know that letter is an appeal. I don't have the authority to stop that.

IBU WIRYANTI SUKAMDANI: He doesn't do what he already promised and what he already planned. In the area which is supposed to be preserved that he gives licence to build a new one. So I mean, this is really not consistent. It's inconsistent.

But in this plush hotel, owned by the main developer behind Benoa Bay, I find a vocal supporter of the project. Businessman Made Mangku says reclamation goes on in plenty of other places, like Queensland, so why not here?


MADE MANGKU (Translation): It's like the Gold coast in Australia. Australia also reclaimed the Gold Coast. But why wasn't that area researched more thoroughly in case there were alternatives to reclamation? In fact, the Gold Coast is amazing, it's great. We have to develop, right? We can't not develop. So if some people don't want Bali to develop, should we still stay as we are? Should we continue to be backwards? Should we continue to be poor?

Just a few days after this interview, a presidential regulation was issued removing the conservation area status and allowing so-called revitalisation in Benoa Bay. The brand new toll road has just opened, and will get visitors from the airport to their floating villa in no time at all. Around the southern part of the bay, the area to be most affected, the protest flags are flying. Dive and marine sports operator, I Nyomam Sugita, only set up shop here three years ago. He's now facing ruin.

I NYOMAM SUGITA: It's going to kill my business, it's going to kill it, not only my business, it's the local economy sector, like, they're going to kill all the reef, the fish, the coral, it's all gone. It's going to destroy this area.

He says the secrecy surrounding the project is unacceptable.

I NYOMAM SUGITA: Until now, they never show up, never talk to me personally, and what they want to build is going to impact my little business here or not?

GENDO SUARDANA (Translation): Reject leaders who are enemies of nature, reject leaders who side with greedy developers - Resist!

MADE PASTIKA: I just thinking of the future of Bali. Every year we have more than 25,000 students from the university. They will graduate, they will need jobs and where are they going to do that?

But for many, stopping people selling their land is the key issue.


WAYAN: We're going to see this guy, Sayur who's an artist.

Activist Wayan and Phyllis Kaplan is projecting to protect the rice farmers, is taking me to a landowner who's holding out to developers.

PHYLLIS KAPLAN: Nice to see you. I love the paintings, especially what it says here in relationship between money, development and farmers. Can we see some more of the paintings?

SAYUR: Yeah.

Sayur's paintings are a plea from the bugs and the animals to not build on productive land.

SAYUR (Translation): So there's a frog, there's a duck, they represent the creatures of the rice fields, who are saying "œwith all the villas the profession of farmer has changed drastically" They're questioning that.

He's best known for one bold art installation. He put up this huge sign on his own block.

SAYUR (Translation): The rice fields are my last defence, that's why I put up the "œNOT FOR SALE" sign.

With a rapidly growing domestic market and a surge in Chinese package tourism, Bali's boom seems set to continue.

DEDIK RACHMAN, ACTIVIST: We, Balinese, should take the move to save Bali. If not us, who else? If not now, when? Before it's too late, Bali is so small and we don't have time to be playing around.

ANJALI RAO: David O'Shea and the battle for Bali and with Bali such a popular destination for Australians, we'd love to hear your views on that story. Use the Dateline SBS hashtag on Twitter or go to our website. You'll also find links there of some of the people featured.







Additional footage provided by Infinite Aerial and ForBali

29th july 2014