Monday, January 11, 2010

Vetiver saves beaches in Lombok...are Oahu and Kauai beaches next?

Our Indonesian friends, specifically the Jakarta Post through its contributors Marcella Segre and Gil Trawangan, report Vetiver's success in stabilizing  beaches and halting the erosion that killed reefs in Gili Trawangan and Gili Air. 

Imagine diving off one of the beautiful shores of the Gili islands in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, and finding yourself face to face with fishermen equipped with dynamite, intent on destroying the coral reef.

This was the reality as recently as 2002, before the Gili EcoTrust, a not-for-profit environmental organization, was established and signed an agreement with fishermen a few years later.  Although the bombing has now ended, thanks to the action of local conservation officials, a need remains to continue supporting the action to ensure that fishermen, now limited to fishing in two designated areas, do not return to their old habits.  Fishermen receive a monthly compensation that will be slashed if they are caught fishing outside the designated areas or using destructive cyanide and dynamite. Funded by a fee collected by dive centers, the compensation system is very successful.

“It was hard to convince the fishermen, but now our islands are more beautiful and more and more tourists come to the Gilis. It has helped all of us,” says Hari, a Gili Air resident.

The Gili EcoTrust now engages in a broad range of actions to protect the islands' environment.  Its goal is to raise the awareness among people to reduce their environmental impact on a delicate ecosystem that already has been irreparably damaged.  Information boards provide tips about such eco-friendly behavior as taking a shower and walking on the beach.  A Clean-up Day is held the first Friday of every month, and local students attend ecology classes.

The Gili EcoTrust is actively involved in the success of a Biorock project in the Gilis. Biorock structures are electrified steel structures that encourage mineral accretion to speed up the growth of the pieces of coral attached to them.  “They're not very nice to look at, but they're working,” says dive master Seb.  “You can see them sticking out of the water at low tide. They look like a bunch of steel, cement and building material. But in only ten months, the beach is already back.”  Thanks to 33 Biorock structures, the reefs off the Gili islands are now experiencing rapid regeneration.

The Biorock project is only part of a comprehensive anti-erosion scheme in the islands, where soil erosion is a real problem and beaches are rapidly disappearing.  In Gili Air, futile attempts have been made to counter erosion by growing mangroves or placing rubble on the shores.

The Gili EcoTrust has introduced Vetiver plantings.  Says Gili EcoTrust manager Delphine Robbe, “This is the best and most sustainable way to preserve our beaches.”  Hotels and businesses tend to stack sandbags or build seawalls, short-term solutions that only deflect the waves, which remove more and more sand from the beach. Since Vetiver's roots can reach as deep as five meters (15 feet), it holds the sand much more effectively and also looks more natural, she says.