A huge chunk of Bali's riches are below the surface of the ocean. There's a whole industry profiting off of that here, from diving courses and expeditions, through freediving to snorkeling for the amateurs among us (that would be us, of course). Exploring the seabed and its wildlife is one of the top three activities marketed every five meters on every commercial beach, along with surfing lessons and massaaage.
We wanted to experience this first-hand, naturally. Our Baltic Sea back at home, even in a good season where the water temperate doesn't threat freezing off any limbs, has nowhere near the variety of fish, nor is it translucent enough to make exploring viable. We signed up for snorkeling in Padang Bay, choosing an offer from a reliably looking diver store.
Padang Bay is one of the three major locations to go underwater here, together with Nusa Lembongan and Tulamben. It has a reputation for clear water, great sights, and then there's the allure of one of its diving locations named the Blue Lagoon (though apparently the name originated from an adjacent hotel and has nothing to do with local conditions). It's an hour by car from Sanur and it's wildly popular throughout the day. Tens of boats start take off here, from morning to midday, taking eager divers out to sea.
Our experience? Mixed.
The wildlife is stunning. Colonies of fish, ranging from small ones synchronously swimming in groups of hundreds, colored blue, yellow or orange, to meter-long ones, grey, brown or black-ish fish, gracefully floating in pairs. Occasionally there's an eel snaking through irregularities of the corals (our Australian companion took one for a snake and panicked, but of course these are harmless), and if one's particularly lucky, a turtle or small shark (too small to do harm, apparently) may show up.
Nobody's allowed to touch or interfere with any of the animals, obviously, but just watching them is mesmerizing. Beats a visit to the zoo or even the massive AquaDom at SEA LIFE Berlin.
So what's the issue?
Look at the header photo. See anything out of place? Right. Trash. Lots and lots floating around, brought in by the currents. A lot of it originates from the island, getting washed down via intense rainfall into rivers and straight to the sea. Some of it is also traveling between Indonesian islands. That portion of our experience was deeply unpleasant. Our guide only made a sad face, shrugged and said “welcome to my country”.
We also weren't lucky with the weather—overcast skies all morning, no direct sunlight, so the waters were much darker than they could've been. But unlike garbage management, there was nothing anyone could do about that.
If there's one thing the experience left with us, it's the profound realization of how important it is to work hard for sustainability and to reduce humanity's footprint on Earth. It strengthened our commitment to do our part of the job, throw away less, reuse more and support the companies and people who live out the same values.