Pariama Hutasoit, Contributor, Serangan Island, Bali
Surfers crowd Serangan beach, Bali, enjoying breezy waves while other visitors leisurely sip their canned drinks at the nearby cafes.
Not far from them, an elderly couple, Wayan and his wife, were busy sawing hard sea corals near the shores. Their bodies were partly submerged in the water. Once in a while the seawaves dashed against their dark and wrinkled skins.
The old couple were concentrating on their job, ignoring busy activities around them.
""We received a bulk of order from someone who wants to build a temple,"" Wayan said. ""If there is no order, we won't go to the sea,"" his wife added.
The couple, just like other Serangan Island residents, were just trying to make ends meet by catching and sawing sea corals as they did not have any other option. At least 100 former fishermen and boat people have to give up their previous jobs since PT Bali Turtle Island reclaimed the island in 1996.
The company, whose operations were temporarily halted by the governor of Bali last year but have again commenced after an environmental impact study concluded it could start operating again, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
The project has affected the local people's lives -- socially economically and environmentally, since many of them lost their properties and daily incomes because of the reclamation.
For instance, fishermen who used to catch aquarium fishes could no longer find proper locations since most of the coral reefs have been destroyed and part of the seawaters turned into land. Mangrove forests, home to millions of fish and shrimps, were cut off to make way for the project.
Boat people saw no bright future either since the project has directly linked the once separated Sarangan island to Bali. With the new development, residents and visitors no longer need water transport to reach the island.
Now, many local people see coral reefs as an immediate and easy way out to earn money.
""We realize that our activities will destroy the marine ecosystem, but we are just uneducated fishermen with no skills to find other jobs,"" complained one of boat owners, Wayan Senter.
But many of them prefer to close their eyes when facing this bleak reality. To make things even worse, the local administration does nothing to prevent further coral reef exploitation, or takes no action against developers which have created huge environmental and social problems on the island.
Most of the fishermen catch hard coral, which they thought already dead. However, it is hard for them to distinguish dead and living corals. Many times they saw living corals, which they only identify as Karang tombong to illustrate its physical appearance. Karang tombong or hard coral is the one which is easily cut and has white stripes like coconut meat, which is called tombong in Balinese language. Each slab of coral reef measuring 30x15cm is sold at between Rp6,000 and Rp7,000.
The fishermen, who usually take the corals during low tide, do this as a side job, while others rely on this work to survive.
In the past, hard corals were only taken to build big temples but now, demand is high. Many people want to use them to build temples, houses and offices. Demand for hard corals come from Denpasar, Badung regency to as far as Karang Asem in East Bali.
""High demand of hard corals certainly causes environmental damage to the sea,"" explained Windy, a marine scientist at Bahtera Nusantara Foundation.
Living or dead corals are important to maintain the balance of marine ecosystem and they prevent seawaves from eroding the land. The coral reefs are home to millions of marine species.
""Even dead corals will one day become alive again because many new corals which live on the dead ones will form new corals,"" Windy said.
If the fishermen take out both dead and living corals, soon, there will no more new corals. ""And this is very dangerous,"" she said.
Another crucial problem is sea erosion. Clear example can be seen in Tanjung Benoa and Candi Dasa beach in Karang Asem.
Excessive exploitation of the corals will also result in decreasing amounts of fish and other marine habitats. ""It is not strange they (local fishermen) could not catch the fish here,"" Windy said.
Based on a study carried out by the foundation in 2001, Sarangan was a small island, which was previously rich in coral reefs.
""The present condition is so different. There are only a few coral reefs left here after the reclamation project,"" Windy said. ""The locations are scattered on some spots near the Benoa harbor.