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Bali Worries ‘Unstoppable Flow’ Of Tourism Negatively Impacts Environment

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Communities and traditional leaders in Bali are raising concerns about the impact of mass tourism development on the environment. In areas like Canggu and the villages surrounding Ubud, building development for rental homes, guesthouses, and hotels for tourists and longer-term international residents have often been built on productive farmland.

Anthropologists, conservationists, and traditional Balinese leaders are voicing their concerns for the environment and the future of tourism on the Island of the Gods. 

Tropical Hotel And Swimming Pool Surrounded By Jungle Forest In Bali

Following a discussion at the Community Hub House in Denpasar on Sunday, 18th September, local communities have spoken to reporters about their experience of tourism development. The event was titled ‘G20 and the Future of Bali’. Balinese culturalist I Wayan Westa shared his observations of the rapid development on the island over the last two decades.

He explained that he sees Bali as an ‘open fortress’ inviting in an ‘unstoppable flow’ of tourism. He said that these massive developments have bought undeniable positive impacts on the economy but that he fears that the focus on developing the tourism sector has led to the ‘sacrifice’ of agricultural land. 

Kuta And Seminyak Beach In Bali Covered In Ocean Plastic Waste Pollution

In calm and respectful opposition to Governor Wayan Koster, Westa suggests that more robust policies on environmental protection would benefit the island and the tourism sector in the long run. With less and less agricultural land, food scarcity may become a greater issue, as well as the increasingly visible issue of water scarcity in Bali.

Last week, Governor Koster spoke to the media about his vision for sustainable tourism development and food security. He believes that ‘the solution to building tourism while maintaining food security is to build monumental and fundamental infrastructure, as well as tourism that [promotes] local agricultural production’.

Bali Farmers Plant Rice In Flooded Rice Field Close To Old Buildings

Monumental infrastructure is not the angle that Westa is taking. He told the press that future-proofing the island must be conducted with an environment-first approach. He said, ‘How much land do we have left, how many rivers do we have left, and how many water sources have we saved? Then map out how Bali will be in the future’.

Bali shoreline with buildings

During the discussion, the Chairman of the Indonesian Conservation Foundation, Iwan Dewantama, shared his insights. The issue of coastal erosion and tourism development on fragile coastal ecosystems. He explained, ‘Of the nine regencies-cities, five regencies-cities have experienced seawater intrusion. What does that mean? Namely, seawater enters the aquifer in Bali, where the aquifer should be filled with fresh water, meaning that there is a large-scale extraction of our groundwater. For example, how do hotels and villas take our underground water? It’s not controlled’. 


Dewantama urged the government to pay greater attention to the matter, using the example of sinking Jakarta and Semarang. He suggested that tidal flooding events could quickly become the norm if the issue is not tackled more fully and urgently. He said, ‘Though the conditions in Bali’s forest area is not ideal, the lake is polluted, seawater intrusion occurs, water pollution. [These are the] facts that must be a measured of where Bali will go in the future’.


Deputy Governor Cok Ace attended the event and echoed the sentiments of the panel discussion speakers. He said that all future development must ‘be in favor of nature conservation, cultural strengthening and improving quality [of life] for Balinese people’.

The Chairperson of the PHRI (Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association) concluded by stating, ‘Save nature, culture, and people, because that’s the only wealth we have. If we realize that tourism development is damaging these three things, we should stop it immediately’. 


Though no policy changes were announced, there are hopes from local communities that these kinds of events will bring their experiences and observations to the attention of decision-makers so that tourism development can be sustainable and that suitable measures are taken to tackle the environmental issues they have highlighted.

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Saturday 1st of October 2022

Perhaps if they spent tourism dollars on educating their own on environmental issues, disposing and collating rubbish and actually putting bins around. It’s aways the foreigners fault in SE Asian. No accountability on how the corruptly run the country


Wednesday 28th of September 2022

If these politicians don't wake up they will destroy the beauty of Bali. stop taking rice fields to build new hotels bungalows etc.There's nothing worse than being surrounded by a concrete jungle.


Wednesday 28th of September 2022

Agree. Land plots are being subdivided into tiny plots for tiny villas surrounded by concrete walls. Plots are so tiny villas no longer can have even a small garden. No more water catchment or support for insects, birds etc.

Villas and businesses are built without much Balinese themes. In some areas it looks more like Jakarta style town houses.


Wednesday 28th of September 2022

I wholeheartedly agree.

Bali is way overdeveloped in tourist facilities. The rate of increase in hotel beds, villas,pondoks...far exceeds even pre covid demand, and that of the projected future.

The airport, even with the never happen North Bali airport cannot, and will not, increase the tourist numbers to give an acceptable occupancy rate or return on investment.

We have the ridiculous situation where the real Bali experience is being replaced and promoted by airplanes on roofs and other weird places as restaurants, a proposed Disney like theme park, camel rides?, gym workouts, weddings when for most countries it's not a legally recognised union (ask Jerry Hall, Mick also figuratively screwed her)

The current infrastructure struggles to handle existing demand even with the current post covid tourist numbers. Yet apart from proposed motorways and flying pig suggestions like railways, mandating electric vehicles...there's no meaningful and necessary plans.

What about increased listrik generation, water reticulation, garbage disposal, sanitation (as in sewerage) not septic where the outflow pollutes the groundwater, rivers and so many beaches. Even simple things like floating barriers on rivers, which I know exist in some places, but the crap is rarely picked up.

Why not make beachfront business be responsible, and buy if necessary the equipment to daily clean the beach. For example splitting the cost pro rata along Tuban/Kuta/Legian/Seminyak, or Batu Bolong, Batu Belig, Echo, Pererenan,would be bugger all.

The loss of agricultural land to tourist development has other follow ons apart from reduced food production.

Property prices force locals to move well away from places of employment. More traffic jams, pollution and cost to the rakyat.

Tourism is finite and self limiting. But it's also subject to fashion, price, distance and new experience. Just take Australia. The Pacific region is just as close and cheap, as are the emerging Asian places like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia...

It's almost beyond belief that the provincial assembly isn't trying, encouraging, funding and supporting industries and business that are outside tourism.

Why should they? An easy answer. Self reliance.

Finally here's a conundrum.

More and more emphasis is being placed on education. Kids are going to college and university. They don't want to be farmers and want to constructively use their tertiary qualifications.

Unless it's highly specialised they've few choices - leave Bali, or work in tourism at a job not commensurate with their qualifications, and for lower pay. Grateful they have a job, but pissed off.

My pembantu was a multilingual tour guide. A Balinese 'family' member with an accountancy degree, 26 years with the same well regarded hotel group is after 19 months being unemployed just started being housekeeper for a bule villa.

John mac

Wednesday 28th of September 2022

Great to hear, focus on the environmental & agricultural impacts, before granting development approvals. Also with a view to the effects on water use and waste disposal / sanitation.

Karen North

Wednesday 28th of September 2022

So what happened to the new way of Bali after covid? No scungy backpackers allowed, eco and cultural tourism only? All gone to the wind. Let anyone and everyone come to Bali. Even the Russians were allowed back, all in the name of a dollar.