For many, trips to Bali can mean Bintang on Kuta beach, but a group of Murdoch students spent a month on the Indonesian island collaborating with locals to restore coral reefs, teach sustainability in schools and tackle the impact of the covid pandemic.
The undergraduate students from Environmental and Conservation Sciences, Asian Studies, and Development Studies took part in Murdoch’s Sustainable Community Development Practicum supported by the New Colombo Plan Mobility Program.
A Federal government initiative, the New Colombo Plan provides opportunities for Australian undergraduates to take their studies into a cross-cultural context through field trips and internships in the Asian region.
Having maintained the program in virtual form through the covid pandemic, the Summer 2022 NCP program took advantage of open borders to return to the field.
Led by Associate Professors Carol Warren (Asian Studies) and Mike van Keulen (Marine Biology), the students travelled to the coastal community of Les Village in northeast Bali, a three-hour drive from Denpasar.
Away from the tourist centres of Kuta, Sanur, and Nusa Dua, Les Village attracts a small number of yoga, dive, eco-tourism, and study groups; but lacking a sandy beach, Dr Warren said, it was unlikely to become attractive to the sun, surf and bargain-seeking tourists who flock to the south of Bali.
“For this reason, it is ideal for exploration of hybrid economies that mix production from the traditional agriculture and fisheries sectors with engagement in the global economy through alternative tourism,” she said.
During their stay, the students used skills from their respective disciplines, but also collaborated to work on issues of practical importance to local people.
Dr van Keulen and his cohort spent much of their time underwater rehabilitating and monitoring reefs along the northeast coast of the island. Working with local guides, they harvested coral fragments before transplanting them onto grow-out tables.
Meanwhile, the social science students interviewed villagers on the impacts of the covid pandemic due to the collapse of the tourism industry and the resultant default to dependence on fishing, agriculture, livestock rearing, and other home-based production activities. Both marine and social science students collaborated in carrying out environmental education programs developed during their training program with the Coral Triangle Centre in the local village schools.
“Apparent across the spectrum of activities was the increasing awareness of sustainability issues at village level, and promising experiments in waste management including plastic recycling, local regulation of natural resource use and livelihood diversification,” Dr Warren commented.
“Students from across the disciplines were confronted by the unexpected range of social and environmental challenges faced by a single village and the diversity of responses they observed and participated in through work with local community groups, as well as government agencies and non-government organisations.”
The students also attended lectures at Udayana and Gajah Mada Universities on community development and conservation issues affecting coastal communities in Indonesia. These included overfishing, water shortage, plastic pollution, land alienation, supply chain disruption, and income loss from the covid pandemic.
“They took home as many ideas as they brought with them for responding to parallel challenges for sustainable development on both sides of the ocean border shared by Indonesia and Australia,” Dr Warren said.
Dr van Keulen put it simply: “Minds have been opened and lives have been changed.”
The practicum would not have been possible without the support of the New Colombo Plan, Sea Communities, International Internships, Coral Triangle Center, Jaringan Ekowisata Desa, and the Segara Lestari Villa which provided accommodation and amazing meals.