Project GO! Les Village, Bali — A Sustainability Initiative
In October 2019, a group of us from Temasek travelled to Les Village (Les in short), a seaside community in the northern part of Bali, Indonesia. This was part of Project GO, a series of ecology-focused staff initiatives spearheaded by our very own Sustainability and Stewardship department.
Not Your Typical Trip to Bali
I’ve been to Bali several times, but what drew me to this trip was the opportunity to do something very different: to learn how the locals are doing their part to rebuild the environment, and to do it alongside them.
Les is a three-hour drive from Bali’s capital, Denpasar. In Les, we spent time with the villagers through activities such as coral reef rehabilitation, plastics recycling and salt farming. We enjoyed authentic Balinese cuisine, and visited traditional temples and the local waterfall.
The Coral Reef Rehabilitation
On the second day of our trip, we learnt about the history of the reef rehabilitation programme, and that the fish and coral gathered here were sold commercially — the main livelihood for most of the locals.
Prior to the programme being implemented, these (free-diving) fishermen relied on potassium cyanide as their main fishing method. Over time, the reefs were poisoned and the natural habitat for marine life was severely damaged. The locals said they saw a decrease in ornamental fishes near the coast and had to dive further and deeper in order to sustain their livelihoods.
Since it launched in 2009, the reef rehabilitation programme has seen the villagers, local government, foreign researchers and non-profit organisation like Sea Communities pitching in to regrow the reefs and take care of the surrounding marine life.
We took part in a few dives with the locals that involved the gathering of reef fragments and replanting them. During the dives, I witnessed first-hand how this initiative, which began more than 10 years ago, is now home to vibrant marine life close to the coast.
There were so many fish that some even “attacked” my GoPro!
Learning about Plastic Recycling
After the dive, we were brought to a local recycling facility and learnt about the different types of recyclable plastics.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is one type of plastic that the villagers are focused on recycling. It’s primarily used for food and drink packaging, due to its ability to prevent oxygen from getting in and spoiling the product inside. We got involved in the preparation of sorted waste plastics, cutting plastic cups and removing labels from plastic bottles.
The business of recycling plastics is not as straightforward as one might think. Viable business models might not exist for the types of plastic that are available for recycling. Apart from what products to make with recycled plastic, the villagers also had to consider the cost required to produce pellets, the initial machinery investments, and whether there was demand for the recycled-plastic products. This entrepreneurial mindset left us feeling inspired to do more about our own plastic waste.
Some of us became really engrossed in the production process and worked together like cogs in a well-oiled machine. The end result? We soon had recycled plastic shreds, pellets and strings “printed” and ready for use as “raw material”!
Salt Farming While Catching the Sunrise
On another morning, we joined the salt farmers at 6am to try our hand at the salt manufacturing process. We got ourselves awfully muddy, but had a lot of fun with the locals gathering sea water, saturating soil with it, filtering the mixture and later, raking salt from the drying fields.
A natural local produce, salt has been a key economic driver in this village — these salt farming methods have been practised since the village’s earliest days.
The table salt produced here has a distinct flavour in comparison to conventional factory manufactured versions — it possesses a sweet aftertaste due to the use of bamboo trunk in its production. After harvesting salt from drying fields, we took a turn sorting, mixing the salt with natural flavours, and bottling.
The salt is also used in scented bath salt production, which we also took part in.
Being a digital native, it is easy to imagine how modern technology could help make this process more efficient. But this is a local tradition that will help ensure the survival of future generations, and the farmers we worked with went about their work cheerfully, with big smiles on their faces. This reminded us of the simplicity of life and to appreciate the everyday things — right down to what we put on the table.
Sharing My Views
Together, we can do a lot to make a difference to our community and environment. Small efforts can go a long way over time. It was inspirational and encouraging to see the reef garden teeming with life, with fish and marine animals flocking to it.
We have much to learn from the locals, and were glad for the opportunity to experience and lend a hand in preserving their environment, culture and heritage. Definitely something different from your typical trip to Bali.
I now see so many opportunities for us to play a part, by driving greater awareness, lending our skills to improve recycling efforts and building new, relevant business models.
So, for any diving enthusiasts or aspiring conservationists out there, I would encourage you to take the first step, sign up for an alternative holiday experience like this, and become more engaged with our regional communities.
Here are some useful links to check out if you’re interested to find out more!
■ Link to step-by-step coral reef rehabilitation dive on my Linkedin and Medium article
■ Dive videos on Youtube
■ SEA communities, the organizing entity behind the experience
Published with permission from Temasek’s SSG Public Affairs team.