Memories of Tanjung Luar flooded my thoughts as Helen and I stood on the jetty in blackness. Two years ago we were circumnavigating Lombok and decided to visit this South East Lombok market which is notorious for the slaughter of mantas and sharks. I was amazed that Lonely Planet, Fodor's, Rough Guide, basically all the travel books listed this market as a place of interest so we wanted to see just how interesting it was. On our previous visit we’d arrived about 11am to a group of sleepy deserted structures that stunk a bit, but clearly we’d missed all the fanfare. This time we wanted to be sure to get in, get photographs, and talk to people. Color started streaking through the sky as the first boats started to arrive.
2 days later our eyes were blurry, we stank of death, and we were exhausted. The stress of seeing the carcasses of these beautiful animals that we care so much about just being tossed off boats, de-finned, disemboweled, cut into chunks and sold in plastic bags left us unable to speak. Trying to look unbiased on the outside, while you heart is telling you, no that’s not even the word, it was screaming that everything there was wrong. When you go into a place like this you cannot act like they are doing anything wrong because they aren’t, shark and manta ray fishing is perfectly legal in Indonesia. It is what they do, it is what this village survives on. We both found it interesting to see the other tourists who came to the market out of curiosity and inevitably left after only a few minutes with their faces stuffed into handkerchiefs to mask the smell and in some cases hide the tears. Just walking around and asking dumb “tourist type” questions and looking really interested and pasting on fake smiles took its toll on both of us, however, we found out quite a bit about how the finning networks and the boat operators manage and treat the workers. What we were told is not too pleasant, but we’ll get into that when we are able to get someone on the ground in the fishery and find out if the allegations are actually true.
That said, when Helen, Delphine, and I got together soon afterwards, our TL trip became the topic of conversation. Our pictures on the Aquatic Alliance facebook page started a storm of comments, controversy and even provoked some death threats from a few kooks. The death threats set me off! I was furious at the lack of education, and the amount of apathy out there. But, if you type in Tanjung Luar into any search engine you’ll see that we weren’t the first to go there. Maybe it just resparked something in people, I don’t know. When the Project AWARE grant was announced, it was a perfect fit for Aquatic Alliance and the Gili Eco Trust to go in tandem to do what we can to document the fishing practices, educate not only the Tanjung Luar locals, but take the informational program to other villages in Lombok and Bali, research success stories of other villages similar in nature that have managed to shift away from destructive practices, offer plans for economic alternatives, and of course we need the government to understand that these destructive practices are decimating their own ecosystem and (more importantly to some) the islands image. An interesting side note is that same weekend last April that we were snapping photos of dead sharks and manta rays in Tanjung Luar, the Lombok Gov’t was hosting a symposium 50 KM away to stimulate eco-tourism, so obviously there is an aptness to want to enhance their tourist image.
Sometimes you have to bang your head against the wall a few times before the cracks form in the concrete, but if you hit the wall just right, it may take only one whack, right?