How the Gilis are going green
If you’ve been to Indonesia, then you probably know all about the Gili islands. If not, the Gilis are three drops of beautiful white sand beaches off the east coast of Lombok. The three islands: Gili Trawangan (Gili T), Gili Meno, and Gili Air, vary in atmosphere from all-out party (Gili T) to secluded island getaway (Gili Meno). They all have friendly locals, amazing beaches, and dozens of fantastic diving/snorkeling sites. They rest in protected waters, meaning they are shielded from the ravages of commercial fishing and host a spectacular diversity of marine life. However, due to their small size, they are especially susceptible to the effects of climate change and the harmful negligence of humans.
20 years ago, the Gilis were nearly uninhabited, now they are one of the hotspot travel destinations in Southeast Asia. As tourism boomed (especially on Gili T), the islands’ infrastructure struggled to keep up. The result was large, and ever-increasing garbage pits in the center of the islands; literal hearts of darkness on these picturesque tropical paradises. In 2000, a group of locals and foreign business owners decided to something about the destruction of their beautiful homes and created the Gili Eco Trust; dedicated to preserving the Gili islands and educating local and tourists about their environmental impact. Since its founding 17 years ago, the Gili Eco Trust has made some incredible strides towards improving sustainability practices on the islands. Here are some of the projects managed by Gili Eco Trust.
1. Waste Management
Gili Eco Trust is doing some amazing things to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in Gili garbage pits. They have installed a facility on Gili T where they separate cardboard, plastic, aluminum and glass, compress them into huge bricks, and then send them to Lombok by boat to be recycled. They currently process and send about 10 tons of would-be waste EACH WEEK to Lombok to be recycled.
The Trust also operates a glass brick manufacturing facility on Gili Trawangan. Glass bricks are blocks made of crushed glass, cement and water. The resulting bricks are cost-effective (3,500IDR/brick), strong, and termite resistant; making them excellent building materials. The glass bricks have been used by numerous businesses on the Gili islands.
In order to bolster coral populations and rehabilitate damaged sections of reef; the Eco Trust has installed 120 steel structures around the Gili islands and planted corals on them. The structures are charged with low voltage electric current, which provides a sturdy surface for the corals to bind to, and increases their growth rate. Besides fostering new coral growth, these biorock structures are excellent habitats for a wide range of marine life, increasing the overall biodiversity of the area.
Gili Eco Trust promotes and operates several environmentally friendly tourist activities designed to demonstrated and educate travelers on how they can reduce their footprint. They run snorkeling trips where they show you biorock structures, cycling trips to the center of Gili T to see where all the waste from the island ends up (if not in the ocean), and Stand Up Paddle Eco safaris where you SUP around the islands and pick up trash from the ocean.
4. Beach Cleanups
Every Friday, The Gili Eco Trust hosts “Debris Free Friday”. On Fridays at 5pm diver, locals and tourists meet and clean up the beach for an hour. Afterwards the Eco Trust processes the waste and all participants receive a free beer, talk about a win-win!
5. Repurpose/Upcycle Store
In addition to processing waste to be recycled off island, the Trust also repurposes some of the things they collect into eco-souviners that they sell in their store. They sell everything from fishing line bracelets to Absolute bottle drinking glasses, all made from materials collected on the island.
Along with the efforts of the Gili Eco Trust, there is a multi-island effort to protect and maintain local turtle populations. There are turtle sanctuaries on Gili T and Gili Meno that incentivize locals to bring them turtle eggs instead of eating or selling them. They then raise and care for the turtles until they are old enough to survive in the wild. The result is an abundance of adorable turtles that can easily be seen snorkeling or diving.
Indonesia is a country that struggles with sustainability and waste management. Being an island nation, it’s very difficult to have a uniform waste management system. It is therefore left up to individual islands to deal with their trash and to put in place systems to protect their natural environment. Sadly, many islands don’t have the resources or education necessary to put those systems in place. The results are mass trash-burning, dumping plastic into the ocean, and unsustainable practices such as slash-and-burn agriculture and fishing with dynamite. The Gilis are an incredible example of how small islands with little resources can take steps to preserve and protect their natural environment. I hope that other islands; such as neighboring Lombok, will follow The Gilis’ example so that Indonesia can remain the spectacularly beautiful country it is for many years to come.
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