2 Feb 2010

Travelblog: Incentives on islands

We are were on another island. Gili Trawangan -- like Nusa Lembongan -- has problems with fresh water shortages. As before, there is a fixed supply that is exceeded by demand. This demand -- given no constraints on new developments, visitor numbers or use by visitors -- is only likely to increase. (There are no signs in rooms saying "please use less water" and there are certainly no meters on rooms, to charge guests for the water they use.)

Hotels and guesthouses have responded to shortages in three ways:
  1. The expensive and big places have desalination units (cost about $25,000 for the machine and one-half their monthly electric bill). All their guests have "fresh" water at the tap.
  2. Luxury bungalows (we paid $40/night) have fresh water from 5 gallon jugs ($3 each) or big tanks that are shipped from shore; see photos. Again, fresh water from the tap.
  3. The other places (and local people, in their homes) have brackish water from their wells. We are now in one of those, and the salinity varies from noticeable to "way too much."
Right, so that's a little more information on water.

This island is interesting for two other features: One rare feature is that they are trying to "regrow" their reef by sinking cages offshore and then connecting electrical cables to them. A small current encourages corals and other beasties to perch on the cages and grow at a much faster rate than normal. This effort is supported by the local dive industry (big money) as a means of recovering from a past of sloppy anchoring and dynamite fishing. Fish here are VERY expensive: lobster cost about $60/kg; prawns slightly less.

One common feature is rubbish -- everywhere. I picked up plastic bags and other stuff while snorkeling. There are plastic bottles everywhere and a surprising number of flip-flops and other shoe pieces. One thing that you do NOT see is empty beer bottles -- that's because they have a $0.20 deposit.

The reason that there's so much trash around is that locals are not used to dealing with plastics. In the past, they would use bamboo or leaves and then toss the old stuff on the ground to wash away or get eaten. Now that stuff doesn't "disappear" and the shoreline and reef is clogged with it.

Given the importance of tourism on this island (90+ percent of the economy), it seems like they should tackle trash, but they are probably not due to a tragedy of the commons: If one hotel cleans up its beach, then the trash of others just washes (or is dumped) there. So why clean?

It would be easy to fix this problem with a visitor trash tax that paid for trash to be hauled back to the mainland. Even better, locals could hold "trash olympics" with bounties and rewards for the largest volume of shoes, plastic bottles, etc. that were retrieved from the environment. I'd guess that a bounty of $0.01 per plastic bottle would result in HUGE piles of empty bottles -- those that are currently scattered throughout the island. (Miscellaneous plastic would have to be rewarded by weight, of course.)

Bottom Line: Incentive matter. This island has water "shortages" because tourists do not pay for fresh water consumption; it has garbage everywhere because there is no reward for collecting it. Locals understand why beer bottles are worth returning and reefs worth rebuilding; they can apply the same knowledge to reduce the stress from over-drafting fresh water and dumping garbage.

1 comment:

  1. there is a saying that involves the words nail & head. I hope that the powers that be read this post and take immediate action. Personally i'll not be going back to gili until the electric situation and the rubbish is resolved.



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