Since 2016 Bali has been a hotspot for tourism and seasonal surfers. Once a little Indonesian island that served as a scapegoat from reality, Bali has lost its original mystery and charm over the years, reduced to being labelled as a ‘floating garbage island.’ All the wonder Bali could offer has been forgotten due to the consequences of tourism. But has it changed the image of Bali and the urge to visit it?
Two years ago as I dreamt away along the coastline of Bali and the resplendent shores of Dreamland Beach and Seminyak of getting the best experience of the whole summer, the surroundings were not as I remembered them to be in 2015. With surf sessions at sunrise, it felt like just yesterday when every stroke excavated plastic, bottles clicked against fins, whilst surfboards dragged fish nets — the concept of surfing in Bali had drastically changed and after a few steps on the shore, the horizon was barely visible, crowds were suffocating the beaches as the noise of flourishing tourism muffled the sound of ocean tranquility. The appearances I once knew felt like a vague dream. Commerce was making it impossible to turn a blind-eye to the burgeoning demands of tourism, with businesses booming and Bali getting a spot on the map. But for visitors the attraction and enchantment was an illustrious mirage, it felt as though each time somebody left they took a piece with them and left even more behind. Driving endless hours in a tuk-tuk down the coastline and eating through Sage Café’s menu felt like a dream turned into reality, whilst subconsciously pretending not to see the evolution of dystopian change around you.
Hiking through rice terraces and passing natives, the subsequent interactions with locals lead to an increased comprehension of the population’s mourning for their dying heritage. Due to the rise of garbage in the oceans, the endless flow of plastic interferes with the locals ability to reach clean water spots whilst disturbing the evolution of wildlife. The irresponsibility and the culture of tourism has had the greatest influences on destinations with turquoise oceans and white sand beaches and Bali was a pre-eminent destination of both. Appearances attract but also separate us from understanding the origins and customs of our destination, causing us to miss the true value regions hold and the necessity for preserving it. Bali throughout the last decade has turned from unreachable paradise to weekend-getaway. As the power and accessibility of photography develops further, Bali has devolved to being one amongst many, its unique attributes lost within the tumultuous environment of photoshop. All the while social media makes what was a place for the few, now viewed by all — those satisfied with the emotions this imagery evokes now seek out places elsewhere for similar and more affordable experiences. The original charm of Bali is now buried and lost amongst its fellow garbage islands and consequently, for tourists image and comfort are a primary concern — which, unfortunately, from my own experience, Bali can no longer offer.
During my stay in Ericeira, the Portuguese surfing capital of Europe, I met people who had visited Bali before and claimed that they were not certain whether they would revisit the island. Citing high pollution and garbage islands floating in the most desirable and popular surfing spots as having ruined its magical appearance. Consequently, the once highly prominent destination might cease into oblivion as Bali will be replaced by more attractive and cleaner spots such as Costa Rica and Dubai. Due to the increased accessibility of various other destinations, Bali might be forgotten if the current situation does not improve. Locals along Bali’s east coast have shown an unyielding determination to restore their island to the former glory that it was praised for in 2016. The annual beach clean-up, generous donations and collaborations with non-profit organisations have had a great influence on Bali’s path towards healing. Such local initiatives are not unique to Bali, and other vulnerable places such as Maya Bay in Thailand that are suffering the consequences of tourism are implementing their own local programmes and investing in the preservation of local habitats when it is not the primary concern of the government.
The siege of tourism takes longer to repair than initially thought but weekly beach clean ups have done more than anyone could have hoped. Bali is healing with the tremendous help of local volunteers and seasonal surfers, who go above and beyond to restore the valuable reefs and corals in Bali so the ecosystem there can recover. Surfers thankful for Bali’s amazing conditions and mellow waves all realise the unequivocal necessity to save Bali from its floating garbage mountains, so that future generations can also see Bali for its true island paradise.