Surfers in Bali have issued stark warnings to fellow ocean lovers as cases of bacterial infections caused by polluted seawater are on the rise. An alarming typhoid case has been confirmed in the last few days, as well as oral infections and pink eye. As the monsoon season is in full swing and high tides continue to carry ocean waste onto Bali’s coastline, surfers are urging ocean lovers to think twice about entering the water.
One full-time surfer and digital nomad, who usually lives in Costa Rica, contracted typhoid while on a recent surfing trip in Bali. After contracting the potentially fatal bacterial infection, an oral infection, and pink eye, she dug deeper to discover that this is an issue facing too many surfers and other ocean sports enthusiasts in Bali. Especially those surfing along the southern coast in surf havens like Uluwatu and Canggu.
The issue of plastic waste in the ocean and on the shorelines of Bali’s world-famous beaches is nothing new. Yet, the resurgence of bacterial and waterborne diseases from the sea is a source of serious concern. According to the World Health Organisation, an ‘estimated 11–20 million people get sick from Typhoid and between 128 000 and 161 000 people die from it every year’.
Though there is a vaccination to help reduce the risk, many travelers have not boosted their travel jabs after the lockdown. It is certainly worth checking with a medical professional that all relevant travel immunizations are still up to date, especially if traveling for the first time since the lockdown.
From surfing through plastic pollution in Bali, to creating a global clean ocean movement. That’s our story.♬ original sound – 4ocean
WHO identifies symptoms of Typhoid as ‘prolonged fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, abdominal pain, and constipation or diarrhea. Some patients may have a rash. Severe cases may lead to serious complications or even death’. Typhoid can be treated with antibiotics though WHO has raised concerns about the increase in antibiotic resistance.
Similarly, oral infections and pink eye are not to be overlooked in their seriousness. They create unpleasant symptoms and can seriously compromise a person’s overall immune system. What many might pass off as ‘Bali Belly’ could materialize to be a severe Typhoid Fever case caused by the bacterium Salmonella Typhi in the coastal waters. Typhoid can be contracted by consuming or ingesting any contaminated food or water.
Dipenuhi Sampah, Bule-Bule Ini Gagal Surfing di Pantai Batu Bolong Bali, Apes Banget! Source: YouTube bali_surfpictures♬ original sound – INDOZONE
It is not just ocean plastic that contributes to the high pollutant levels in Bali’s ocean and river waters. It has been widely documented that septic systems in Bali overflow in the monsoon season and can contaminate freshwater sources and is left to flow into the ocean.
Though the last high-profile case of this was back in 2014, environmental NGOs, surfers, and communities are concerned it is happening more and more regularly. It is an issue being bought to light by surfers and ocean athletes worldwide. In the UK, the community-based NGO Surfers Against Sewerage is calling on the government to hold water companies to account for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of untreated sewage into the oceans.
Even surfing legends like Kelly Slater are speaking up about the impact of plastic waste in the ocean. Speaking in a recent interview, eleven times World Surf League champion Slater shared with reporters the nightmare of his last surf trip to Bali. He explained that the amount of plastic waste in the water made it unsafe to continue, and for the first time in his life, he had to leave the ocean due to the volume of garbage in the waves.
Bali’s provincial government and private NGOs are working to clear up the problem, though the tide is literally turning against them. Last week two of Indonesia’s leading environmental NGOs announced a partnership to address the plastic waste problem in Bali. Waste4Change and ecoBali have come together to make a tangible impact on the issue of plastic waste in Bali and across Indonesia.
Travelers and locals are encouraged to take precautions when entering the water and avoid swimming or surfing near any pipelines or river mouths. As always, travelers must take any early signs of infection seriously and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
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