Bali has its fair share of environmental issues, including increasing water scarcity and waste management, but by far reducing plastic pollution has been at the centre of its environmental goals in the last few years.
As the island has remained quiet in recent months, one group has sought to take advantage of the lack of crowds and began a project to clean up the Ayung River, Bali’s longest body of water.
From May to June, Sungai Watch, along with Mason Adventures, have hosted a weekly series of community cleanups. Trash barriers had been set up along one the Ayung’s main tributaries Yeh Poh, amassing a large volume of rubbish that was being washed downstream.
The community cleanups had volunteers removing all of the aggregated debris blocked by the trash barrier. Over five cleanups, 1.8 tonnes of plastic alone was removed.
Being temporarily closed, the popular Bali adventure company, Mason Adventures, provided their white water rafting vessels and oars to facilitate the volunteers during the clean up, as well as their rafting guides for the first two clean ups.
As the Ayung River, and some if its tributaries, are usually busy with white water rafting and other activities when tourists are here, the pandemic has created an opportunity for a much needed cleaning of this vital waterway.
Sungai Watch, sungai meaning river, is an initiative started by Make a Change World, an environmental media outlet that not only features positive change-makers but also creates positive changes, too. Founded by three siblings – Kelly, Gary and Sam Bencheghib – Make a Change has been focused on putting plastic pollution on front page news; which they successfully achieved over several awareness campaigns such as rowing down the Citarum, one of the world’s most polluted rivers found in West Java.
Sungai Watch was a natural next step; a project to provide localised solutions to plastic pollution. The objective is really to stop plastic in its tracks, before reaching the sea where it becomes microplastic. However the exercise and implementation of Sungai Watch also helps to educate local communities on environmental issues. Another linked initiative is to collect and share the existing solutions to protecting rivers found around Bali, so that these can be replicated by many communities.
“After a big rain, our trash barriers may collect up to 10-15 tonnes of plastic,” shares Gary Bencheghib. “After we’ve removed the rubbish from the river, we sort the different types of plastic and then give this to EcoBali Recycling. We are also doing a brand audit of the collected plastic, to bring awareness of the effects companies can have on the environment”.
Sungai Watch’s pilot project began in Tibuneneng, an area neighbouring the popular Canggu hub. Their goal is set up 100 trash barriers by June 2021.
“Ive always been quite interested in Gary’s work,” says Jian Mason, Director of Operations of Mason Adventures. “We’ve often discussed how we can collaborate, so when he asked for assistance we were very happy to help.” Mason Adventures is also one of the only companies operating on the Ayung River that regularly commits to clean ups, understanding that the cleanliness of the river will have a direct effect on visitor experience and perspective.
Mason may soon be re-opening their rafting experience to groups of up to four people per raft, but in the meantime have been using this downtime to create a new chocolate factory in Kedewatan, as well as construct a 144-seat theatre in their Elephant Park.
As for Sungai Watch, weekly clean ups are always looking for volunteers, so make sure to keep an eye out on their social media pages on how you can lend a hand!