This summer I went to Indonesia with my husband Fernando. It was my very first time in Asia. We traveled to Bali and Mentawais, a small archipelago about 150 km off Sumatra’s coast. Bali, in particular, is a place which I have always heard and dreamed about (and it really deserves it). Mentawais, in turn, was totally unknown to me. The islands are a kind of Mecca for surfers.
I was not planning to surf there. I hadn’t been surfing for a while and I did not have my board with me. I also was afraid of reef breaks, what Mentawais is all about. But, as I am married with a surfer, we headed to there. I was really excited to go, to do some snorkeling, dive, and, of course, enjoy the surf show. I was craving for the marine biodiversity I would see in an island in the middle of nowhere with pristine waters.
Mentawais’ waves are, indeed, spectacular. Perfect shape, consistency and beauty. The water is singular. Clear, warm, with numerous shades of blue. We spent ten days there and I did various free dives – I snorkelled many times just in front of our hotel and also near some surf breaks. I saw different species of fish. Sometimes I felt like I was in an aquarium with plenty of colourful and ornamental but yet small fishes. I also found some lobsters, big urchins and a beautiful sea snake. I was lucky enough to see a dolphin jumping when I was swimming close to the surf boat. Ray, only one, in my last day. No turtles, but tons of plastic.
Distant paradise, global problems
Getting to know the Mentawais was a great experience and I am very thankful for that. But I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. I expected a more vibrant marine life. Ok, maybe I have become a little spoiled after diving in incredible marine parks, such as Fernando de Noronha and Abrolhos, both in Brazil. But in an archipelago with less than 80,000 inhabitants in Indonesia – one of the countries with the richest coral reefs in the world – I really thought I would see a richer biodiversity. And to be honest, everyone that goes to the sea should be spoiled by meeting big fishes, turtles, dolphins and whales. Mainly for the sake of marine ecosystems themselves, of course.
So, what is happening with the marine biodiversity here? I started to ask. One of the answers is a bomb, literally. Outlaw fishermen used to toss homemade explosives into the Mentawais’ waters to catch fish on a commercial scale, killing not only the targeted animals but also all living organisms around. This destructive method jeopardizes the coral reefs and is one of the greatest threats to Indonesian reefs. Although such kind of fishing is illegal, local capacities to patrol the country’s 17,000 islands are weak.
In 2013 a Youtube video showing fishermen illegally bombing the Mentawais spread among the surf community and sparkled an expressive movement asking for better patrolling in the remote region. With the visibility, the issue has gained the support of the Indonesian government, which pled to take action to stop the bombing. Apparently, it helped. I hope so. But clearly marine life is still suffering the consequences.
Regarding the plastic we saw in the sea, I was a little bit naïve for not anticipating that. Every year 8 million metric tons of plastic end up into the seas and oceans. It’s huge! And Asia, alone, is responsible for more than 80% of this amount.
Our experience with the trash has started already in the way to Mentawais. We were supposed to go there by the fast ferry boat but it was the end of Ramadan – most Indonesians are Muslims – and due to unclear reasons our boat was cancelled at the last minute. Fortunately, we managed to catch the slow ferry – a trip of 9 hours instead of 3 with the fast one.
We spent the whole night onboard, an extra dose of adventure. Even before our departure we started to see people throwing away cans, bottles and other stuff into the water. With some luck and pills for sickness, we managed to sleep almost all the travel and when we woke up we were already in the paradise – we and the plastic.
Apart from the harbor, we saw a lot of plastic and other debris in a specific surf spot called Scarecrows – one of the most beautiful in Mentawais by the way. Probably the currents make them concentrate there. My dives at this place always finished with a trash collection. Some surfers and our boat’s crew also did the job, filling a big bag each day. A tiny work that already helps.
By 2050 it is expected to be more plastic than fishes in the oceans if we don’t improve the management of waste and the fish stocks. I created this site to talk about means by which we can avoid that such horrible scenario and other terrible forecasts becoming true. The good news is that there are amazing things we can do in our daily lives. Are you ready?