The Anambas Islands might be the most beautiful paradise you’ve never heard of. Located in Indonesia, the remote archipelago boasts stunning blue waters and lush forests across its 255 islands. Of these, a mere 26 are inhabited, home to several village communities comprising between 300 to 700 people each. But while the Anambas Islands are still relatively unknown to mainstream tourists, they are not free from the effects of plastic pollution and overfishing.
To combat these and other issues, and to raise awareness of this pristine eco-destination, Bawah Anambas Foundation (BAF) was founded in April 2018, with support from the sustainable luxury resort Bawah Reserve. The two entities are working in tandem to preserve and regenerate this biodiverse region, while educating guests of Bawah Reserve about conservation and the true meaning of eco-luxury.
Leading the way is Jerry Winata, Head of Bawah Anambas Foundation. Winata is passionate about the mission of BAF, his vision driven by the time he is able to spend with the local people of the islands. When he first began working with Bawah Reserve owners Tim Hartnoll and Matthew Chapman to establish the foundation, Winata was struck by their commitment to the long-term investment and improvement of the region.
Rather than filling out paperwork, Winata initially spent his time working for the foundation exploring the islands, getting to know the people who call this paradise home. “For the first two months, all I did was travel to one village and live with the villagers. For me personally, that’s the only way I can develop or design any programs or anything that makes sense.”
BAF has a three-pronged approach to conservation that synergizes with Bawah Reserve. As Winata put it, the conservation priorities are categorized as, “‘Above, Below, and Beyond.’ Above is forest conservation, Below is marine conservation, and Beyond is community development.” Within each of these three priorities are several specific programs, aimed at conserving the biodiversity and marine environment of the Anambas Islands while improving the local community’s wellfare.
Each specific program is part of the foundation’s holistic approach to conservation. “We decided we were going to focus on four activities,” Winata said. “The first was going to be coral regeneration around the Bawah area, that’s the pilot. The second one is integrated waste management. It’s the cornerstone of the foundation’s work, to be honest. It’s one of the biggest programs we implement. The third activity is organic farming, the aim of which is to provide an alternative livelihood to the community… Last but not least is the digital English club, where we provide English lessons to school children.”
While the latter two activities may seem less critical to conservation efforts, Winata is quick to point out that community welfare is an integral factor in creating long-lasting change. “At the end of the day, I can’t talk about conservation to a hungry man, or a mother worried about her children’s education. They will always choose that above everything else, and that’s fair. That’s what any human being would do.”
Winata believes that BAF’s role is not only to attend to these basic human needs, but to empower local people to take the conservation of the environment into their own hands. “They are the ones who need to protect the environment. They are the guardians of the environment, of nature, of their own homes,” he said. “What we try to do at BAF is provide the tools to make them realize there are ways to provide for their family, to give their kids a good education, without sacrificing the environment.”
This change in behavior is key. During Winata’s time with the villagers, he noticed that although the islands now have 4G reception and internet service, many of the village’s customs have not adapted with the times.
The location of the islands may have contributed to this particular challenge. “In terms of the geographical and logistical challenges, they have not changed. They’re still on a remote island, with a small island community.”
“They’ve always chucked their waste in the ocean, but the world has changed. Before, the food they used to eat was wrapped in banana leaves, but now it’s all wrapped in plastics,” Winata lamented. “Beyond that, when I was living in this village, their houses were squeaky-clean, spotless. But they just kind of chuck everything in the ocean, or they pile things up in one open area. It’s not that they lack a sense of cleanliness, judging from their houses, it’s just that they don’t know what to do with it. I thought to myself, ‘If they do every single thing right, then what? With one thunderstorm, everything will go into the ocean.’”
These logistical considerations can be quite sobering when taken into account. According to Winata, the nearest port that allows the villagers to sell or send their recyclables is 26 hours away by boat, a daunting distance that becomes impassable during monsoon season. But rather than dwell on these obstacles, BAF has poured their investments into creating infrastructure and working toward the future self-sufficiency of the islands. As Winata puts it, “We’re trying to achieve zero waste coming from the island or that ends up in the ocean. The way that we’re doing that is by continuing with our education and waste separation program, but the last element that we’re trying to add is an upcycling program.”
The program is ambitious, especially considering BAF is still a new organization. But their extensive plan seems to have accounted for many of the environmental challenges faced by the villagers. “We’re investing in various types of machines that would allow the community to process much of the waste in the village,” Winata said.
The machines that will eventually make up the upcycling program include everything from a machine that stretches plastic into eco-bricks to a large oven that can safely burn non-recyclable materials without polluting the air, with the added benefit of providing energy for hot water. The foundation’s utopian approach to sustainability may seem unrealistic to some, but through the support of Bawah Reserve all of the projects are feasible.
In fact, Bawah Reserve has its own role to play in the Anambas, by immersing guests in an ecological paradise and providing a platform for BAF. Winata believes the beauty and luxury of the reserve are crucial in educating guests about conservation. “Bawah Reserve is beyond beautiful,” he said. “From the minute our guests touch Bawah Reserve, we want the work that Bawah Reserve has done with the support of BAF to speak for itself. The amount of coral that has been regenerated is phenomenal. The way the construction is built within nature, and not destroying nature is quite obvious. So from the very beginning we like to take our guests on this journey and allow them to experience and see it for themselves.”
But Bawah Reserve is about much more than appearances. The resort has integrated itself within the environment, including its coral restoration project and the food sourced from local villages. Guests have the chance to directly contribute to conservation, through extra activities they can experience at the resort that directly fund the foundation’s programs.
These activities, while not included in the resort’s all-inclusive pricing, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences that more than justify their cost, especially when the regenerative benefit to the environment is taken into account. One of the resort’s extra offerings, as described by Winata, is a conservation dive in which guests are educated by Bawah Reserve’s marine biologists. They are then sent to search for baby corals—coral recruits—and invited to transplant them at the coral nursery themselves. At the end, the guests have the opportunity to adopt their artificial reef, called a hexadome, and receive quarterly updates about its growth.
But BAF has gone even further in their efforts to improve the health of the planet. Beyond plans for additional conservation activities, the foundation participated in the international Our Ocean Conference, held in Bali in 2018. Accompanied by heads of state, international governments, and established NGOs, the young foundation committed to allocate $200,000 to combat marine pollution—supporting the government of Indonesia—and allocate $270,000 for the management of marine protected areas in the Anambas.
BAF also committed to reduce the amount of solid waste entering the ocean by 8 tons through collecting marine debris. However, the foundation has done even more than they promised; between November 2018 and June 2019, BAF reduced the amount of solid waste entering the ocean by more than 45 tons—a stunning result, and hopefully an indication of more to come. As Winata himself put it, “We’re really optimistic about the future.”