Within 2 hours of arriving by ferry to the island of Sumbawa, we were taking a boat to the small desert island of Kenawa – Kenawa is one of a half dozen islands located close to the port of Poto Tano. We planned to stay the night there, alone, surrounded by nature and under the twinkling lights of a thousand stars. It sounded amazing and I hoped it was going to live up to my expectations.
The first thing I noticed arriving on Kenawa was just how quiet everything was. The only sound on the island was the whistling of the wind through the grass and the crash of the surf against the sandy beach. Occasionally, in the distance I could hear the blast of a ferries horn as they came into port. The sound of the ferries and the dilapidated buildings should have been the only signs of life on the island. However, there was trouble in paradise.
Kenawa island was covered in litter. Shards of glass from bottles of beer covered the paths, plastic pot noodle containers were all around the small wooden huts, empty bottles of water, sweet wrappers and other junk lined the edge of the beach. A scene that should have been picturesque – that was impossible to get to without a hired boat – had been ruined by visiting tourists.
Exploring the island of Kenawa, I tried to forget about the rubbish. In fact, the further inland I went, the easier it was to ignore. Climbing the tall hill in the center of the island, there was no sign of the empty bottles that littered the otherwise beautiful pink beach – there was lots of bits of weathered red coral in the white sand. Here it was easy to forget the damage that visitors had done to the island and remember that I was surrounded by the beauty of nature.
The coral reefs surrounding Kenawa were also beautiful, healthy and thriving with fish. In fact, swimming past a sea turtle – I was told you could also see manta rays and even manatees – I thought tourists would happily pay hundreds of dollars to dive at coral reefs as pretty as those off the shores of Kenawa.
When we returned to Poto Tano the next day, we visited the Office of the Department of Fisheries – the government department that should be partly responsible for conservation efforts on the island. The people that worked there talked at length about the different awareness and education programs that they run to try and improve things in the area. It was immediately clear that they recognised the importance of conservation, not only for the environment, but also for attracting tourists and the money that they bring. Yet despite all of the good intentions, it was an off hand comment that was made when I was looking for a place to throw away my water bottle which stuck with me.
“Just leave the rubbish on the floor, I’ll burn it later.”
The town had no functioning system for disposing of trash.