Home to over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago. Enveloped in its sparkling blue waters is a biodiverse marine ecosystem so vibrant that it’s earned a spot in numerous lists of top diving locations in the world. On land, Indonesia houses one of the world’s largest endangered reptiles – the Komodo Dragon.
Sadly, despite efforts to preserve their population since the 1980s, we’re now left with fewer than 3,500 dragons. The majestic species is classified as Endangered on IUCN’s Red list. Habitat loss, illegal hunting, and climate change are some of the reasons their number continues to dwindle. We can now add sea pollution to the list as well, in particular, single-use plastics and other marine debris that end up on the remote beaches of Rinca Island’s Horseshoe Bay.
Partnership with Indonesian Waste Platform (IWP)
With an aim to preserve the islands of East Indonesia – a region that has given us innumerable magical experiences while sailing with Aqua Blu – Aqua Expeditions has partnered with the Indonesian Waste Platform (IWP) on a long-term commitment to sustainability.
IWP is already rooted in Komodo working closely with four of the five large islands to improve waste management. A common issue faced is that the same attitudes about waste have persisted from decades ago when most packaging was biodegradable and commonly thrown on the ground. Beyond that, in more rural parts of Indonesia, clean water and sanitation are a luxury so plastic cups and bottles are their go-tos.
By educating local communities on the nature of plastic and about separating recyclables like glass and aluminum from general waste, a change is slowly taking place. A change that not only keeps the local and neighboring rivers cleaner but also generates local jobs. Monthly, a team is deployed to the island communities to buy the separated waste to be recycled elsewhere. By partnering with IWP, we aim to enhance the ongoing waste education efforts and engage even more communities in the archipelago.
As strong believers that change starts from within, we have also been improving our own recycling practices through this collaboration, right on the decks of Aqua Blu. During our sailings from Bali to Labuan Bajo, we’ve implemented a number of useful recycling habits practiced by all crew on board. This involves a conscious effort to separate recyclables from other waste, all of which is left with IWP for processing at the end of our sailings.
Finally, to mark the start of this long-term collaboration, Aqua Expeditions and IWP embarked on a two-day beach clean-up in Horseshoe Bay. Nestled within the vicinity of Komodo National Park, it’s characterized by its crescent-shaped shoreline. One of the more prominent beaches it encompasses is Pantai Merah, or the Pink Beach, known for its vibrantly pink sand.
Cleaning up the Komodo Dragons’ home with passionate rangers
The other beaches found at Horseshoe Bay are some of the most remote across the Komodo Islands and as they are uninhabited, they are dubbed ‘red zones’ where humans are banned from entering as no Komodo park rangers are permanently stationed there. With no permanent inhabitants here, it follows that the rubbish washing up on its shores rarely gets picked up.
Through this effort, we hoped to improve the natural habitat of the endemic Komodo Dragon. Working with IWP, the two-day beach clean-up was also an opportunity to collect data of waste accumulation on these beaches.
Many years of plastics and other marine debris had compacted into clusters on the tree-clad sandy beaches, and relentless weathering had sometimes broken down the straws and plastic films into a crumbling microplastic. In total, we collected 337.1 kg (41 sacks) of recyclable waste from Horseshoe Bay’s shores over the course of two days. From single-use plastic cups to discarded fishing gear, the haul painted a vivid picture of the marine debris challenge which the region faces.
While our beach clean-up efforts extended only to the beaches of Horseshoe Bay, the transformation was still motivating to see; a fortnight post-clean up, we returned to the bay and saw Komodo dragons basking in the sun of a cleaner beach. Ultimately, our plastic-picking project is a small step in the direction of a greener planet but we hope to inspire others to do the same for an even bigger change. In the words of zero-waste chef Anne Marie Bonneau, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”.
We believe that partnerships like the one we have forged with IWP hold the key to lasting change as we could connect with local rangers to educate them on the solutions at hand for island waste management. This education also extends to local volunteer students from Flores Island, who come on school placement under the national park rangers. It was heart-warming to see their youthful zeal and dedication to maintaining the environment.
“Hello, my name is Yofi and I came from Ruteng, a town about 2 hours away from the island of Flores. I am a 17-year-old high school student and I joined the Komodo National Park for a few weeks on a school placement. I want to become a Komodo dragon park ranger so that one day I can help preserve their habitat and numbers. I am glad I joined this cleanup today- my perception is that littering is terrible for wildlife and marine ecosystems. It is good to collect the litter and make these wild Komodo beaches clean again.” – Yofi said she would go back and tell her friends about this cleanup activity and will try to help her town with waste management.
The rangers themselves were an immense help in the clean-up effort and were incredibly adept at keeping the curious Komodo Dragons at a distance. Their passion for what they do was inspiring and they played a key role in shedding light on the importance of initiatives like this.
In the words of the Komodo National Park ranger coordinator who joined us on the 2 day event:
“As a ranger, our job is to study the local ecology around the islands, to monitor how many bird species I find in the area, to monitor wildlife and of course to find tracks, scat and report any indication of dragon activity around the area. Komodo Dragons are our national pride and I am honored to have this role. I am grateful for the cleanup and for the ongoing support of Aqua Blu and the Indonesian Waste Platform to keep these natural habitats wild and clean once again.’’