Serangan Island: Undersea Galleries?

          Serangan Island has been the sandy stage, brimmed with mangroves, for some long and drawn out conflicts.  Every six months in Bali’s most important temple, Pura Sakenan, a sacral performance unfolds as a barong dragon defends a village from a fanged witch. Possession and attempted self-stabbing unfolds every six months like clockwork. But unlike many Western fables, Balinese conflicts are rarely good versus evil, and neither is the story of Serangan Island. Historically, this island was somewhere for the Balinese to put criminals, offenders, and perhaps unwanted outsiders. A Bugis tribe sailed in and squatted here in the 17th century, joining in with an already mixed lot. Serene, orange sunsets collide both the Mahgrib call to prayer of the Muslim Mosques and the pentatonic scales gong of the Hindu Pura.  The island is the unsettled and indistinct homeland of 3,253 people, among whom there is rarely an issue.  Many choose to see the Serangan conflict of the 21st century as environmental, put poetically: man versus himself.

            As tourism was ramping up in the seventies, an attempt was made to direct the wayward islet to emerge a resort island, though its landmass was less than 40 hectares.  As the island’s main investor, Bali Turtle Island Development’s plan to make the islet six times larger ended at 112 hectares, roughly only three times its original size.  The halted effort used sand and reef pulled from the bottom of the surrounding sea, resulting in the death of reefs, and the erosion of nearby beaches. Much more than these two potential tourist attractions were lost, ironically along with sea turtles that had been nesting nearby for centuries. Locals and representatives of companies involved in the development unexpectedly rose up to protest the planned resort, some stating an island made primarily of settling sand could not support the structures planned.

            With his divided homeland a stinted and abandoned side-project, local fisherman Pak Wayan Patut created Kelompok Nelayan, a union of local fishermen, perhaps sharing the mildly uplifting sentiment that life on Serangan could not get much worse.

            It was not long after that Marine Biologist Ir. Rahmadi Prasetyo contacted the fishermen and found them receptive to the idea of coral gardening. In 2007, they trained and worked together to restore reef at the JICA project in Kuta, Bali. As group leader, Pak Patut apprenticed in the small community of Les, near Tejakula, North Bali, where coral gardening was already underway. He then returned to Serangan to lead his group of now 23 fishermen to new grounds at new depths.

            Kelompok Nelayan’s first two hectares of well-tended cement sculptures, carefully studded with bright coral, have attracted both national and snorkeling goggles.  The process begins with either corporate or personal sponsorship of each sculpture. An NGO known as Coral Guardians sponsored two ornate statues of a traditional Balinese couple that were fashioned by prominent artisans of Gianyar, and then were sunken.

            Through adversity, Pak Patut’s Kelompok Nelayan union had proved its need for progress. These two hectares invited further training from Pak Rahmadi, this time under Badan Lingkungan Hidup (BLH) Kota Denpasar, one of Bali’s foremost environmental agencies.

             Celebrating the end of two months of training, the 3-day Serangan Island Green Festival was held in November of 2012 with support from BLH, Denpasar. As all lunched in a restaurant afloat hundreds of meters from shore, ornate sculptures went to their allotted, watery graves, and hawksbill sea turtles were released, further beautifying these blooming underwater galleries. Among the many important parties in attendance was Mayor of Badung Regency, A.A Ngurah Oka Ratmadi. 

            Of all the bobbing, polar perspectives on that raft restaurant at sea, there wasn’t a spoken conflict. As with your typical Balinese tale, Serangan’s quagmire escapes the duality of good and evil. Representing a fundamentally environmental perspective was Monica Kuhon and her media service, Tectonic Turtle. Working together, Pak Rahmadi and Ms. Kuhon are promoting integrated coastal zone management – coral gardening and the breeding of reef-dependant species – as a model for ecotourism, hoping to subordinate coral mining, destructive fishing practices, and poaching as sources of income. Alternatively, the Nelayan Group takes a strictly humanitarian view, their motto being ‘Seluruh Masyarakat!’ – ‘Each Individual!’   Education on the island is also a concern of many as school children are still required to bus to Bali for studies.  And on its own, Pak Arso’s Yayasan Upaya Damai has taken a garbage-first perspective, pointing out the first thing visitors to the island see, and smell, as they cross the bridge from Bali: a towering landfill.


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