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Serangan coral reef to open for marine tourism
April 9th, 2009

Following their success with transplanting coral, residents of Serangan, Denpasar, are planning to develop a marine tourism site to give visitors a chance to experience the beautiful underwater scenery while learning about environment.

“We are still working on the concept,” said Wayan Patut, who pioneered the coral reef transplantation in Serangan. “But basically the people, the village administration and the traditional leaders have agreed to make it happen.”

Serangan, about 10 kilometers south of the heart of Denpasar, used to be a small island, separate from Bali. But the Bali Turtle Island Development (BTID), one of the business enterprises belonging to the family of former president Soeharto, reclaimed the area in 1995 and 1996 as a tourist development.

Patut was one of the public figures in Serangan who opposed the megaproject, as it had a negative impact on locals, who until then had earned a living as fishermen, by damaging both the local economy and the environment.

“The fish disappeared, many coral reefs died. Some fishermen turned to collecting coral for a living,” he said, referring to an activity that is harmful to the environment.

In 2002, Patut started to transplant coral using the grafting technique, or planting coral seeds on substrates (where the coral grows, including dead coral). In attaching the “seeds”, Patut was helped by local youth groups, who later established the Karya Segara Beach Fishermen’s Group. They make small “stools” or plates from cement with metal or concrete frames to position the coral.

They have planted 32 species of corals, which are growing well across a 3.5-hectare area, according to Patut.

“Many fish have also started to come. What makes me happier is that since 2003 people have stopped collecting coral,” he said.

He is also glad because local customary rules have been revised, stipulating that people are obliged to help preserve the environment, especially coral reefs.

When Serangan becomes a marine tourism site, its long history will be an important story for tourists, while the main attraction will be the magnificent underwater coral reef garden.

Patut added that he has mapped out the route for visitors who are interested in snorkeling and diving. A glass boat will be available for those who do not dive.

It will start from the location outside the transplantation zone, where visitors will see the spread of destroyed coral. “It is a vast area. It is so sad to see it because it looks like a desert,” he said.

The journey will continue to the coral reef garden. Visitors will first see the young coral and the stools and plates that support them, before they are taken to see the adult ones surrounded by a range of species of fishes and other marine biota.

“This route will allow visitors to see the real underwater state of Serangan, coral that died because of natural causes or reclamation or because of people’s activities, collecting coral for commercial purposes,” he said.

He said he believed people’s hard work and strong commitment would lead to the existence of a coral reef garden with ecological and economic benefits.

But, he stressed, it was not about the money. For this reason, he plans to limit the number of participants in each underwater tour.

“In a day, we will allow only 10 to 15 people to prevent any impression that we are exploiting or commercializing it,” he said.

The aim of the policy is to protect the coral’s growth and to prevent any potential harmful impact from the tourists.

He also said he was determined to avoid any interference by investors, especially the BTID. “We have quite a lot of experience, so we will be more careful about the persuasion of investors, even though we are in need of money. We won’t let them cheat us again.”

He said the planned tourism development required not only equipment such as a boat and snorkeling and diving equipment but also guides who have diving certificates and can speak foreign languages, at least English.

Local people, he said, would be able to do everything and would be managed by the traditional village authorities.

“We want to create our own jobs to earn a living, so there won’t be any moral duty to any party, and we won’t be under their command.”

According to head of Kaja hamlet in Serangan, Ketut Pusara, local people now have a greater awareness about the environment. For example, he said, those who used to make money by collecting coral now become fishermen.

“In the past, many people used coral to build houses or temples. But not anymore,” he said, “We agree to the tourism development plan as long as it is good, for us and for the environment in Serangan.”

Patut added that he had set a target of completing the coral transplantation on the 8-hectare area by 2015, considering the limited funding and human resources.

He is relying on the support of the government and NGOs for the coral cuttings and the procurement of a place to grow them. Patut and a group of local youths will look after planting and maintaining the coral voluntarily; the only money they might receive will be a meal allowance.

By his calculations, people’s volunteer contributions were worth Rp 5 billion. “This was calculated from making the plates to the plantation and the maintenance,” said Patut.

He has also formed a special team providing coral-planting services, called the Working Group for Bali Coral Reef Conservation. The group has served several clients in Bali and other islands.

He said the group had provided 200,000 seeds for the coral transplantation in Serangan. The market price of an 8-centimeter coral seed, under special permit from Natural Resources Conservation Office (BKSDA), is anywhere between US$6 and $15.

But Patut said they still needed seeds to expand the coral reef garden, adding that tourists might later be involved in the plantation project by putting their names to a special plate, for a fee.

Marine tourism activities at Serangan will be priced affordably. Visitors will be able to rent a boat for Rp 250,000 per trip and scuba equipment for Rp 100,000 per person. The fee for hiring a guide is Rp 100,000.

Tourists will also be invited to see the economic activities of fishermen at Karya Segara beach.

The fishermen, who are part of a savings and credit cooperative, which has about 40 members, sell soft coral to several countries. Patut said that soft coral harms other types of coral, and so collecting it supported the efforts to preserve the coral reef garden.

The group also cultivates aquarocks, or rocks to decorate aquariums. The process of making such rocks is similar to that for making the plates or stools for the coral reefs garden, using cements and filler.

The rocks are then planted in the sea so that sea biota, a kind of algae, grows on them. After between three and six months, they can be harvested and sold for about Rp 8,000 per kilogram.

Patut said many visitors from various areas had come to Serangan to learn about coral transplantation. They included government officials who wanted develop similar projects in their regions and high school students who came for their scientific projects

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