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Bali mangrove bay is now a conservation zone

The decision kills a US$2 billion plan to reclaim land in the mangrove-rich bay for a tourism development featuring hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues and a convention centre.

Bali’s mangrove-rich Benoa Bay is now legally off-limits for any reclamation or development activities, following the government’s designation of the area as a maritime conservation zone.

Spanning some 1,400 hectares (3,460 acres) in southern Bali, the bay was in 2014 rezoned from a conservation area to a public zone under a decree by then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a move seen at the time as clearing a path for future reclamation and development.

Indonesians in Bali and other cities have since opposed every proposed development project in the bay, especially an ambitious plan by PT Tirta Wahana Bali Internasional (TWBI), a property development unit of Indonesian tycoon Tomy Winata’s Artha Graha conglomerate. The developer proposed building artificial islands covering half of the bay, which would host a multibillion-dollar complex featuring hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues and a convention center.

The plan prompted criticism from environmental activists and local communities, who say the Benoa Bay reclamation project, valued at 30 trillion rupiah ($2 billion), would clear much of the bay’s rich mangrove ecosystem that feeds the local fishing community.

On Oct. 4, Indonesia’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries issued a decree designating much of the bay, some 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres), as a conservation zone. The designation allows religious and cultural activities, and sustainable and traditional fisheries, but effectively bans reclamation projects.

“The decree is the state’s affirmative policy for the people of Bali,” Brahmantya Satyamurti Poerwadi, the ministry’s director-general for maritime planning, told Mongabay by phone.

“The designation as a maritime conservation zone also supports Bali’s leading tourism sector because it strengthens Bali’s image as a center of tourism that has cultural attractions,” he added.

Opponents of the Benoa Bay development plan have welcomed the ministry’s decision, but say it’s only the first step toward legally protecting the area from the environmental destructive reclamation called for under PT TWBI’s plan.

“The decree is progressive and worthy of appreciation,” I Wayan Gendo Suardhana, the coordinator of the Bali Forum Against Reclamation (ForBALI), a local group leading the opposition to the reclamation project. “But we won’t stop at a ministerial decree because what we want is for the president to issue a decree annulling the 2014 presidential decree.”

The designation as a maritime conservation zone also supports Bali’s leading tourism sector because it strengthens Bali’s image as a center of tourism that has cultural attractions.

Brahmantya Satyamurti Poerwadi, director-general, Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

That would guarantee full legal protection for Benoa Bay from development projects, he said.

“The ministerial decree is the first push for President Joko Widodo to issue a decree that clearly states Benoa Bay is designated as a conservation zone,” Gendo said.

In August 2018, PT TWBI lost its permit that granted the company control of 700 hectares (1,730 acres) in Benoa Bay. It had failed to receive government approval for a renewal after the environment ministry refused to approve the developer’s environmental impact assessment, known locally as an AMDAL, for its project plans.

One criteria for obtaining an AMDAL, which is required for projects with potential to cause disruption from environmental degradation, is approval from the general public — which PT TWBI never received.

But four months later, authorities threw the developer a lifeline: the maritime ministry issued PT TWBI a new concession permit for the development in the bay. Still, the environment ministry said it would not issue the company the required environmental permit to carry out land reclamation activities as long as opposition against the project persisted.

Thousands of Indonesians, from local fishermen and environmental activists to artists and rock musicians, have staged a series of protests and demonstrations in an attempt to shut down the reclamation project.

Brahmantyo said the latest ministerial decree meant PT TWBI couldn’t carry on with its planned project.

“PT TWBI will be sending us a letter,” he said. “They will eventually understand [this decision].”

ForBALI’s Gendo called on authorities in Bali to ensure Benoa Bay would be classified as a conservation zone in the province’s zoning plans for coastal areas and small islands. The latest draft of the plan puts the bay back under conservation zone classification, according to the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi). But it still needs to be approved by the provincial legislature.

“It still needs a lot of hard work and total resistance from every element of society in Bali to really make sure that Benoa Bay has a strong legal recognition as a maritime conservation zone,” Gendo said.

This story was published with permission from Mongabay.com.

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