Kelingking Beach, Bali

Why we want to save Bali from unsustainable tourism

Friends of the Earth Indonesia, WALHI, has been at the forefront of the fight against a land reclamation scheme on Bali.
  Published:  20 Feb 2019    |      4 minute read

Tourism is big business on the island of Bali. The Indonesian government’s target for the number of foreign arrivals in 2018 was 6.5 million.

The environmental pressure of all these visitors is enormous. And the investment does not necessarily lead to local economic opportunities. It’s been estimated that 85% of Bali’s tourism economy is non-Balinese owned.

So in 2013 when a new development was proposed in the beautiful Benoa Bay, local people decided they had had enough.

Tanah Lot temple, Bali
Tanah Lot temple, Bali
Credit: iStock/coleong

Benoa Bay lies at the south-eastern tip of Bali. A developer wanted to reclaim some 700 hectares of land from the sea to create a series of artificial islands. This was half the size of the bay itself.

The reclamation would involve using soil, sand and dykes to displace the natural water. The US$3bn project envisaged the creation of a string of luxury tourism resorts, villas, a theme park and water sports facilities.

Friends of the Earth Indonesia

Friends of the Earth Indonesia, known locally as WALHI, was at the forefront of the fight against the plans.

The group's regional office, WALHI Bali, became a key member of the coalition of some 70 community and environmental organisations which came together to defend the Bay.

The coalition is known as ForBALI.

“The reclamation project made a lot of people angry,” says I Made Juli Untung Pratama, Executive Director of WALHI Bali. “We were concerned that indigenous villages would be at risk from flooding. It wasn’t fair.”

I Made Juli Untung Pratama (left) & members of WALHI Bali
I Made Juli Untung Pratama (left) & members of WALHI Bali
Credit: Emma Priestland/Friends of the Earth

ForBALI was also concerned about the potential impact on coral reefs, local water supplies and wildlife from disrupting the natural flow of water. The group feared that it would increase inequality between those who benefit from tourism and those whose lands would have been damaged.

This is a small island. Hotels are using water, mining companies are using the water. Hundreds of our rivers have run dry.I Made Juli Untung Pratama

ForBALI, which launched in 2013, has been described as one of the biggest environmental movements ever seen in Indonesia.

The coalition includes NGOs and famous Balinese artists and musicians. Thousands of people turned out to protests and pubic events, including a huge pop concert.

The group commissioned a series of stylish posters from a local artist.

Awareness raising concert by ForBALI
Awareness raising concert by ForBALI
Credit: ForBALI

“We sold over 50,000 specially printed t-shirts and flags. Everyone was wearing them at the concerts. It was really powerful,” says I Made Juli Untung Pratama.

WALHI Bali, which has 4 members of staff, also carried out its own environmental impact assessment of the reclamation project. Their study found that the government's assessment underestimated the effects on ecosystems.

Saving Benoa Bay for future generations

After 5 years of campaigning, in August 2018 ForBALI announced the campaign to save Benoa Bay had been won.

The company wishing to develop the project did not submit a request to extend its permit in time. This effectively means the company is barred from continuing with the reclamation scheme. At present it looks unlikely that another company would try to proceed.

ForBALI is now fighting for environmental protections to be re-instated, before a new permit can be issued.

I Made Juli Untung Pratama is happy that Benoa Bay now looks likely to survive for future generations to enjoy.

The tourists never see what’s going on behind the scenes. We need to have development that works for all of us.I Made Juli Untung Pratama

Friends of the Earth Indonesia is part of our global network of around 5,000 local environmental activist groups in 75 countries. Find out more about the work of Friends of the Earth International.