You’ve arrived in paradise, the sun is shining, the water is turquoise and the beaches are white sand and lined with palm trees… You’ve been passed a cold cocktail – now sit back, relax, enjoy the natural beauty and heat of this foreign land – you’ve earned it.
But what’s the actual reality of the Instagram-perfect portrayal of these remote luxury destinations or the top sites for luxury hobbies like scuba diving. At the moment, the truth of the photo is that it is cropped or photoshopped for the travel magazines and travel blogs and the reality is that soon no amount of cropping will remove the amount of waste that’s washing up, plastic forks from our lunch breaks are arriving on the shores of our holiday spots.
We have described the small fishing town of Labuan Bajo as ‘developing’. It’s well known that many poor countries, like Indonesia, have struggled to find income from tourism and land and therefore pillaged many of their beautiful natural resources. As an example; palm oil production has seen the irreversible destruction of rainforests of Indonesia – destroying ecosystems for countless species in order to plant palm trees and sell cheap oil with a fast turnaround in growth and production. Education on ecosystems on land is as lacking as it is about the ocean – this is a country surviving on whatever they can create or produce in order to gain an income to feed their families.
With tourism growing in Indonesia, including remote dive spots such as Labuan Bajo; so closely commutable to the world renowned Komodo National Park, it’s hopeful that education about these ecosystems, which tourists flock to visit may encourage them to protect them more. This is evident here in Labuan Bajo, a town sat on the harbour as the entry point to the Komodo National Park. From speaking to people who have lived and worked here for the past ten years, it seems much of the infrastructure and huge development has come about only over the past five. With this it has brought with it extra tourism from Indonesia, Asia and further abroad and so increases the demand for food, housing and transport. All of these things have grown due to the neighbouring world underneath the waves here; scuba diving in Komodo National Park is on almost every scuba diver enthusiasts bucket list – and truly, there is little other reason to come to Labuan Bajo.
Scuba diving in the Komodo National Park is magical and rarely do you see plastic floating to meet you in the ocean – though you do see some. This, however, can only be short lived with the current processes here. Having taken a walk to see the coast line to find some viewpoints for photos and drone shots we came across a, quite literal, breath taking scene right on the beach. There’s a whole host of local tourists taking their kids to an inflatable water park. It’s a busy beach as children splash around in the shallows, parents are having picnics on the sand and enjoying the view, when suddenly there’s a strong waft of burning in the air – not the soul filling smell of a wood fire or a beach barbecue however, no, a chemical, choking smell of burning rubbish.
Rubbish which has been cleared off the designated area of the beach for those tourists to enjoy the water park, piled high and set alight – a solution to the problem washing up on the shores of Labuan Bajo. We continue to walk down the beach and find that the problem is far wider stretched than one pile of burning plastic. The uncleared coastline runs for miles, covered with plastic bags, bottles, styrofoam, plastic cutlery and various objects including building materials, food scraps and a bloated rat lulling in the tide. Horrifying and heart breaking. Further along massive pits of burned remains of plastic lay along the coast; this seems to be the local’s only solution to the problem.
The infrastructure here is growing in the only way they know how, buildings, buildings and more buildings – but yet they only have water delivered two times a week and there’s no knowing where the rubbish that is collected is put. The set-up and support for a growing town is not available and doesn’t outwardly seem to be a concern. Though, that is from the perspective from someone who neither speaks the language or understands any of the political structure, so I may be well out of my depth here. But ultimately, the evidence speaks for itself – and it will not be long until this rubbish is washing up in the Komodo National Park and laying waste to the corals and thriving marine life there – from the resident Manta Rays right down to the shrimps, nudibranchs and pygmy seahorses.. everything will be notably affected.
The problem is that we travel to see the beauty of a place, we take photos to capture the best bits of our holidays and create an image of a lifestyle as we do so. We crop out the rubbish, the building works and the poverty. The reality is all too real for us, inconvenient for our unwind time. No one wants a beautiful sunset with rubbish in the foreground, or beach photos of their children next to a drowned rat.
The photos in this post aren’t glamorous, they’re taken with my phone in the moments we came across it – because it’s the reality that you can’t crop out of this scenario. Since this we have since been to beautiful, breath taking view points and Aaron has taken stunning photos at every place – yet the reality is that we are standing among crisp packets, plastic water bottles and wrappers and packaging from all kinds of single use plastic. It’s incredibly heart breaking and it doesn’t make for a pretty picture – right now we may be able to crop it out, ignore it, but it won’t be long until there’s no potential to crop it, no national parks to escape to and no coral reefs to scuba dive on or fish to swim with.
Refuse. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.