On 24th June I flew to Denpasar in Bali and drove five hours to Bali Barat National Park, in the northwest corner of the island, to join the Biosphere Foundation International Environmental Stewardship Programme, along with other international and Balinese students. The programme aimed to bring together young people from all over the world and teach them about the world’s biospheres and how to protect them. Bali is an incredible location for this as it is home to such biodiversity, due to small size and huge scope of regions; from mountainous regions to costal areas. Throughout my time on the programme I learnt about the different regions of Bali and their unique ecosystems. I say unique because they are all in such close proximity, but in fact Bali plays host to biosphere’s that are found all around the world, which is why it is so interesting for scientists, such as Sierra Silverstone, who runs the programme.
I arrived in Bali Barat late on the first day, but we all ate together and, with the help of a translator, the Balinese students asked questions to the international students and vice versa. This was a really good way to start the programme, not only because it helped everyone get to know each other, but it made the international students, including me, realise how vastly different our cultures were. It truly was a cultural immersion for both the international and Balinese students and the start of real friendships.
Every morning we were woken up early to go with the Balinese students to pray, so that we would know what to do when we visited the temple later on in the week.
Over the course of my time in Bali, we joined various environmental projects that the Biosphere Foundation was working on, such as: clearing rubbish around the mangroves, looking at the work that the foundation was doing to protect the coral reefs, planting endemic species of trees which are becoming more and more rare in Bali, and removing invasive species, as well as working with local farmers to try and implement more efficient irrigation systems to try and combat draught, which is becoming an ever increasing problem on the island. Each day we were able to travel a very short distance to visit a new biome thanks to Bali’s rich biodiversity. Whenever we came back from a project, in the evening we would have a presentation, from either our guide Nono or Sierra from the Biosphere Foundation, to give us a broader understanding of the problems that faced that specific biomes and how the work of charities like the Biosphere Foundation were helping to improve the situation.
I think that clearing the rubbish from the mangroves had a very big impact upon the Balinese students because it demonstrated the direct effects of throwing out plastic waste. There is no government operated rubbish collection available in Bali, so much of the rubbish is thrown on the side of the road and is carried down to the water during floods in the rainy season. I think this made the Balinese students consider whether their rubbish ended up, and it was a very visual reminder for us of the importance of the mangroves acting as a ‘natural filter’ and barrier, protecting the land from erosion and the sea from plastic waste.
The Biosphere Foundation works with farmers in various regions of Bali to try and resolve issues of water shortage in the dry season and flooding in the rainy season. As the programme took place at the end of the rainy season, during the time we were there, we worked with farmers in preparation for the dry season. So as to carry out their experiments, the charity uses a small sample area of a farmer’s land. Whilst we were there, we experimented with inter-planting of crops, using sorghum (a grain) and cucumber seeds, which we hoped would grow well with one another because sorghum uses relatively little water and grows tall and straight which we thought would act as a support for the growing of the cucumber, which uses more water.
One of my favourite experiences during the trip was visiting the various coral reefs which surround Bali, despite the fact that a tragically large percentage of the coral had died or been bleached, we were still able to visit and help protect some of the most amazing and diverse coral reefs in the world. The fact that we visited these incredible biomes with people who were truly interested, knowledgeable and passionate about protecting them, made the whole experience even more special, because we learnt so much.
I am so glad that I had the opportunity to go to Bali and join this programme. I have feel that I have come away with a greater environmental knowledge and consciousness, as well as experienced an otherwise impossible cultural immersion which has taught me so much and made me consider the way that I act in my day to day life.