ASB MAGAZINE: Since the pandemic first struck around one million foreign tourists visited Bali in 2020 and those numbers have continued to decline with just 155,607 visitors in May 2021, a mere fraction of the three million tourists in previous years. The coronavirus pandemic has paralysed the tourism sector in Bali.  With the arrival of the Delta Covid-19 variant, the recent heaviest lockdowns has resulted in beach closures, restaurants and bars closed, essential businesses are shut by 8pm. The streets and beaches of Bali are deserted and those businesses reliant on tourism are barely hanging on.


However, there is a silver lining with aid organisations rising to the challenge. Project Nasi is a grassroots aid organization founded by Australian surfers Sam Mahony and James Foley. In the past year, Project Nasi has managed to provide over 280,000 meals to those who need it most.


Meanwhile, environmental aid organisation Sungai Watch has used the momentary pause in tourism to clean up Bali’s waterways and accelerate their ‘Plastic Free Bali’ movement. This organisation is ‘hands on’ wading into the refuse of toxic rivers to remove plastic, one bottle at a time. In the video above you’ll see volunteers elbow deep in waist, still smiling and ensuring there will be a cleaner, greener Bali when tourism resumes in the future.


Sungai Watch recently responded to a report of a completely clogged river channel leading to the Dreamland Beach. Over four days, the Sungai Watch team successfully removed 200 tons of plastics and wood from the Dreamland River, restoring it to its’ natural state.


For the past eight months, the team at Sungai Watch have been busy cleaning rivers in Bali. Collectively they’ve removed over 300,000 pounds of plastic and their clean-up operation is growing quickly. Sungai Watch volunteers are catching  plastic through TrashBarriers that have been installed in Bali’s rivers, with the goal of preventing plastic pollution from entering the ocean. They are installing 50 more of these this year with the aim to eliminate plastic from flowing to the oceans forever.


Founded by three siblings Kelly, Gary and Sam Bencheghib, Sungai Watch have been at the forefront of the environmental battle for over 10 years. Gary Bencheghib saw firsthand the direct impact plastic pollution was having on his home island and launched Sungai Watch in 2019. Thanks to strong community involvement, Sungai Watch hosts weekly clean ups that receive up to 200 volunteers (Sungai Warriors). Their objective is to install TrashBarriers  to protect and maintain Balinese traditional Balinese irrigation channels called ‘subaks’ in small streams and rivers up to 20m wide.


In 2020, Sungai Watch achieved their goal of installing 25 TrashBarriers in South Bali between the Badung and Tabanan Regencies. Sungai Watch’s target for 2021 is to install barriers in 100 rivers in Bali by the end of the year.


The three main TrashBarrier models currently in use include the Blocker (a grid-type system made from galvanized wire or stainless steel that blocks any plastics flowing through), the Floater (a system of individual elements composed of PVC pipes and a galvanized steel frame that sits 35cm below the water) and the Walker (made up of blue barrels and a large steel frame that operators can walk on).


Sungai Watch recently released its first ever River Plastic Report, a monthly report that explores what types of plastics and most common brands are present in Bali’s rivers. The Report provides data from nine river clean ups spanning August and September 2020 where 5.2 tons of trash was collected by 512 volunteers.


Through the Report, all types of plastics found in the rivers are analysed by two main categories –  Recyclables and Residual Waste. 65% of the trash collected is considered residual and cannot be recycled according to Indonesian standards, while 35% can be recycled. The Report breaks down Recyclable Waste into two different categories, Fast Moving Consumer Goods products (FMCGs) and Unbranded Waste. FMCGs are further analysed by brand.


“Our goal with the River Plastic Report is really to provide transparency as to what is in our rivers and start an open dialogue with the corporations, government and society at large, to determine solutions. We need to improve waste management at a mass level, but really start to rethink how we package our products,” explained Gary.


Individuals can donate to Sungai Watch or organisations can sponsor a ‘whole river’ to clean up. The team are doing important research on the composition of waist, so that they can put pressure downstream on the organisations responsible. Companies and individuals can also sponsor a TrashBarrier which provides funding for Sungai Watch operations.


The full report can be downloaded at


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