At first glance, Gili Trawangan, Indonesia looks like a paradise. The beaches are white, the ocean blue, the cuisine tropical… and the fact that there is a coral reef under the water waiting to be explored adds to the compel.
However, the Gili Islands (and most of Bali – the Gili Islands are technically a part of Lombok but they are included in many traveller’s Bali itineraries) is sadly becoming more and more negatively affected by mass tourism.
On land, this takes the form of a somewhat forgotten culture with restaurants and shops built solely to cater for tourism – which, while good for certain economies, also has huge negative drawbacks.
Under the water, the problems of mass tourism are instantly more noticeable, because of one particular eyesore: plastic.
With such a colossal amount of tourists descending on the Gili Islands every year, it is inevitable that more rubbish is going to be used and left, which – if it is not cleaned up or recycled – inevitably interrupts the eco-system.
Plastic and other rubbish left on the beaches or the streets of Gili Trawangan ends up in the ocean, leaving it to be consumed by turtles and other marine creatures.
Not only is this harmful towards the individual animals, but many sea creatures are heading towards extinction – meaning that the marine eco-system will collapse which will cause serious environmental problems.
The reef can also be damaged by people standing on or touching the coral; and because it sees so many visitors every year, the effects are multiplied by the number of people snorkeling or diving.
So should I dive in the Gili Islands?
With all of this awareness, you might think it’s a good idea to not go near the reef of the Gili Islands.
I’m not trying to discourage people from diving on the Gili Islands at all; it’s a fantastic place for beginner divers especially, and is one of the cheapest places to dive in the world.
You’re also pretty much guaranteed to get up close to a turtle. But we want to make sure that there still are turtles in the ocean.
How to dive sustainably and help preserve the reef
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of diving sustainably on the Gili Islands. Starting small, this includes all of the ways we, as responsible divers, should already know about treating the reef with respect.
These include: not touching any coral, not aggravating or disturbing any animals and going with a reputable tour company who are known for their minimum impact policies when diving.
Why not get involved in a beach clean-up (these are organized events or you could just go out for an hour yourself to pick up rubbish!) – or even pick up some rubbish when diving?
Some companies and charities organize ocean clean ups, and it’s great to get involved with one of these; but while you’re diving on the Gili Islands, you could pick up some rubbish independently as you explore its underwater world.
Other ways to be a sustainable diver on the Gili Islands are less obvious, and mainly take place above ground, but are just as significant. Many companies on the Gili Islands have stopped using plastic one-use straws and have replaced them with reusable straws, available for purchase.
Making use of these and ensuring you don’t accept straws in the restaurants where they are still offered will go a long way in protecting the reef of the Gili Islands.
There is a similar policy with plastic bags on the island; a lot of businesses don’t offer them, but some do. Use a reusable bag every time you go shopping on the Gili Island to ensure that your plastic doesn’t end up in the ocean – it’s a sad fact that turtles often think that plastic bags are jellyfish and eat them, which ends up causing them to suffocate.
Gili Eco Trust
Gili Eco Trust is a great company that is trying to bring back the idyllic island of Gili Trawangan through eco-tourism. Because the island’s main attraction is the sea, it focuses its energy on the marine life under its big blue, and is making great steps to protect the oceans and the animals that live in them.
They both promote the simple steps that travelers can do when visiting the island and do some real scientific research and work: they are currently restoring the reef using a technology called Biorock.
They are also in charge of all of the waste management and recycling on the island. The company can use all the help it can get; whether that be in the form of donations or volunteering, or just simply listening to and acting in accord to its thoughts and pledges for sustainable tourism.
So if you’re heading to the Gili Islands for a holiday of sun, sand and diving, remember the simple steps that you can take to ensure that the reef is around for many years to come.
The most simple include using reusable straws and bags, more involved things you can do are beach and ocean clean ups, and if you have the time and dedication, helping Gili Eco Trust directly will make a huge difference to the plight of the Gili Island’s reef.
About the Author:
Claire Martin is a British travel blogger and freelance writer. She blogs about eco-travel and overland adventures on her blog Claire’s Footsteps; she has drove around the entirety of Australia and is currently planning an overland trip through Asia.