So, I’m back in Uluwatu, in Bali, Indonesia. Here’s why. After teaming up with Conservation International last year, our surfonomics paper showed that Uluwatu brings an estimated amount of 35 million US dollars. For any place in the world, that is a lot of money. For Indonesia, it is a hell of a lot of money. An estimated 250,000 tourists visit the surf break every year. Though not all of the tourists surf, the surf break’s consistency, quality, and natural aesthetics may be unparalleled around the world. As Project Clean Uluwatu manager Curtis Lowe likes to say, “Uluwatu is mother nature’s version of a goose that lays golden eggs, we don’t want to let this goose get destroyed.” Maybe that wasn’t verbatim.
Either way, it is a completely sustainable resource, that continues to provide, simply by existing. Any human on earth can choose to visit and use the area for his or her enjoyment. It is the Yosemite Valley of the surfing world. The difference between Uluwatu and Yosemite is that Uluwatu is not a national park, nor does it have regulations and management practices that are taken seriously, even within the surfing community.
Therefore, I was tasked by Save The Waves Coalition to return, and help Uluwatu become a World Surfing Reserve. An honor for any wave, a World Surfing Reserver would provide recognition, education on the area, along with a plan for its environmental caretaking.
While I was back in graduate school, finishing my masters in International Environmental Policy, with a specialization in Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, Project Clean Uluwatu has continued to thrive and built up community buy-in along with support from a portion of the local and international surfing community. A great achievement in itself, not to mention building an organic biodigester to treat the sewage and kitchen waste, with an organic waste water garden for the recycled water. Brilliant work, indeed, and I would say that all hats are off to Project Clean Uluwatu’s manager Curtis Lowe for his truly amazing commitment to care for a place he dearly loves.
Unfortunately, despite Curtis’ commitment, dedication, and relentless effort to keep the place clean, development threatens the surf break’s mere existence. Unknown to nearly everyone in the community, certain developers have begun to clear cut the entire forest that surrounds the watershed of Uluwatu. What remains, is a few trees within less than 50 meters of the gorge, and two, nearly 40 degree slopes, of limestone dirt and sediment that threatens to rush into the gorge during the next large rain event. Despite it being the dry season, last July, Uluwatu faced two of the biggest rain events of the entire year, and if this happens again this July, the breaks at Uluwatu, from Temples to Racetracks may be smothered and sediment, and potentially suffocated to death.
Uluwatu has become an endangered wave.
It is not pretty, and if you or anyone you know have connections in Bali, we must find our who the developers are, and see if we can place some sediment fences or other Best Management Practices (BMPs) to mitigate the unregulated and probably illegal development.
Until this threat is addressed, establishing a World Surfing Reserve will be stalled to ensure the surf break still exists in its pristine original condition. Here is another sad view from the road.
We had hoped Conservation International would help us with the government to understand what exactly is going on, but their specialty is in Marine Protected Areas, and not necessarily watershed based management. At the snail’s pace of getting anything accomplished in Indonesia, work on the reserve currently lags behind the threat to the break. So locally at Project Clean Uluwatu and Save The Waves Coalition, we will do everything we can do determine who is actually cutting down the trees, what the plans are, and what steps we can take to mitigate a large amount of sediment runoff destroying one of the best surfing areas on the planet.
In the meantime, I’ll try to end on a positive note as Uluwatu remains a special, beautiful place, with great waves and great people, and beauty. Hopefully someday we will learn collectively to not take our beautiful places for granted. Here’s the view from Project Clean Uluwatu’s office at Suluban Beach (Uluwatu). Please come visit and stop by if you are in Bali!!!