At a first glance, the beauty of Wakatobi island gives no hint of its darker side. An island group in Indonesia’s Southeast Sulawesi province, it includes four islands of Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko. The sea surrounding these are home to 750 of the existing 850 coral reef species on the planet. While the islands put Indonesia on the tourist destination map, the tourism also has a negative side – the increase in plastic waste.
According to Pelindo Regional 4 Kendari, each year during the Muslim religious holiday of Eid al Fitr, the number of people who visit Wakatobi through water transportation is higher as compared to other days, resulting in an increase in plastic waste that achieved more than 45 tons per day. Moreover, the island also receives plastic waste from overseas carried by currents to the Wakatobi Sea. The impact of this plastic pollution on marine life is alarming – in 2018, around five to nine kilograms of plastic waste was discovered from the stomach of a sperm whale that was found dead in Wakatobi’s Kapota village.
Wakatobi’s waters and shores require urgent action to reduce the pollution, a responsibility that a local ecotourism group has decided to take on.
Making the beaches plastic-free
In Wakatobi, there is a youth-led ecotourism group called “Poassa Nuhada” that cleans the island’s beaches to help address the problem of ocean waste. They do this about one to three times a month by engaging local communities and youth to pick up waste on the shore.
When it was first established in 2013, the group only had nine members and managed ecotourism spots in Kulati Village. However, the increasing volume of waste dumped in the sea prompted them to take more action.
“We see a lot of waste that is scattered on the beach and that makes us restless; the waste is not only harmful to the beauty of Panorama in Wakatobi but also dangerous for the ocean ecosystem,” said Nyong Tomia, the leader of Poassa Nuhada and an acclaimed “Nature Hero” by non-profit Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara (YKAN).
Poassa Nuhada collected and managed waste that was scattered in the Kulati Beach, Tomia District, Wakarobi. 2023/the photo was taken by the Department of Public Relations of Poassa Nuhada.
In 2018, Poassa Nuhada collaborated with Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara (YKAN) to collect data about how much waste is on the coast and where it comes from. They found that the majority of the waste in the sea was produced by neighboring countries and domestic households. They deplored the people’s behavior of disposing of waste in the ocean.
In order to break the chain of waste in their region, the group also teaches students in primary schools – the future leaders – about waste management and environment. They believe that eco-friendly character is easy to be shaped for students in primary school rather than adults, and can help to re-socialize environmental education to families.
Teaching the young
To initiate this, Nyong Tomia and his friends in Poassa Nuhada first talked to the department of education and the head principals of primary schools. In 2018, they began educating students in primary schools after conducting a discussion and getting permission from the local government. They initially focused on the East Tomia district because it was easily accessible. Besides this, they also prompted teachers to impart this education to the students, even after Poassa Nuhada’s initiative.
Poassa Nuhada instructs students in environmental and waste management practices using two different methods. First, they deliver study material about the impact of waste on the Wakatobi sea. They prompt students to ask and discuss issues and solutions that have to be taken to eradicate waste in Wakatobi, and then give a presentation about how to manage and sort plastic waste to be a useful raw material.
Second, they play environmental games. In one game, Poassa Nuhada designed a snake and ladder game using actions that either protect or destroy the environment. When students step on the large game board and roll the dice, they walk up the stairs to a higher column if they land up on writing that supports the environment, and walk down in case they reach a message of environmental destruction.
They also introduce the eco-brick game, where students race to build a miniature building using plastic waste.
“I loved to study environmental subjects in class when the Poassa Nuhada group visited,” said Inkarose, a 6th-grade student at Kulati Primary School, in East Tomia District. “They taught me how to manage my waste and the impact of plastics on our environment. The most interesting part was when my classmates and I played the snake ladder game because I could study and play at the same time.”
Students in Kulati’s primary school were pleased when they played a ladder snake game that was taught by Poassa Nuhada, in 2023/the photo was taken by the Department of Public Relations of Poassa Nuhada.
Primary school students raced to build miniatures sachets and plastic bottles in 2021/the photo was taken by the Department of Public Relations of Poassa Nuhada.
According to a teacher of Kulati primary school, La Ode Darmawan, the education model used by Poassa Nuhada to tackle environmental issues is effective. With the game about using plastics to create something, it also taught the students how easily plastics are found in our environment.
“I witnessed that after getting the environmental education, students started to care about their environment; they also gave advice to their parents to stop using plastic as a handbag in the market,” said La Ode Darmawan.
Since 2018, Passa Nihada has actively planned an action to educate primary schools about the environment and waste management and wants to expand their target into advanced levels of education. There are nine primary schools in East District Tomia that have been target groups of environment and waste management education. Besides, the Poassa Nuhada still conducts actions to clean coastal areas and educate people about the impact of ocean waste through informal discussion.
“What has been done by communities, including Poassa Nuhada, can reduce the amount of ocean waste, and also help the government solve the problem. I hope that the educational model can be applied not only for primary school students but also in kindergarten,” said Agus, the head of a division of Wakatobi’s environmental services.
According to Agus, apart from Poassa Nuhada, other youth communities play an essential role in tackling the issue. He ensured that the Wakatobi government will make an effort in supporting activities that relate to tackling environmental issues, especially ocean waste.
Nyong Tomia believes that Poassa Nuhada’s work brings a positive impact on environmental improvement, especially in shaping children’s character towards environmental awareness. Their impacts can be measured with two things – first, the schools’ acceptance of their education model that has been used to educate children in nine primary schools in East Tomia District, and the emergence of youth volunteers who do the same action in other islands in Wakatobi.
At present, the islands in Wakatobi County restrict Poassa Nuhada’s movement to reach each region due to the islands being separated by sea. However, Nyong believes that through organizations on other islands in Wakatobi, environment and waste management education can be applied throughout Wakatobi at higher levels of education too. The group hopes that this education can be a formal subject in Wakatobi’s curriculum.