In 1984, famous painter and eager diver Teguh Ostenrik went snorkeling in Senggigi Beach, Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. It was love at first sight. Ostenrik fell right away for the stunning underwater beauty and the abundant marine ecosystems there. His second visit some thirty years later though, brought a totally different experience.
No more teeming with life, the coral reefs had then turned into a lifeless desert, due to destructive human activities. In fact, all across the archipelago, only around six percent of coral reefs are in good condition.
Determined to bring a change, Ostenrik then set up ARTificial Reef Project at Senggigi Beach, where he installed and anchored art structures to the reef rubble underwater, combining art with technology. The biorock reef restoration project, as it is known as, aimed to create a new home for coral reefs, squids, mussels and fish – connecting metal structure to a low-voltage electrical current generated by solar panels. It didn’t take long for layers of limestone to build up around the structures, which is good news, because limestone is edible for coral reefs.
Within approximately two years, this method is able to accelerate the growth of coral by three to five times than it would under normal circumstances. With electrification, the art installation attracts wider marine life more than merely sponges and algae.
That first project turned out to be a big success. Ostenrik then teamed up with several divers to establish an organization called Yayasan Terumbu Rupa – their mission quite ambitious: to revitalize coral reefs using underwater art installation as the medium, create new marine ecosystem using a combination of biorock technology and art, create new underwater ecotourism areas and to raise public awareness of the importance of the reefs and marine ecosystem preservation.
“What we do in Yayasan Terumbu Rupa is conserving corals through art. Although people at the foundation come from different backgrounds, we share similarities. We all have passion in diving and art,” says Asrul Hanif Arifin, Chairman of Yayasan Terumbu Rupa. Asrul himself is a talented film director who has created numerous short films and television commercials. One of his contributions at the organization has been to create short films about the plight to save coral reefs.
By now, the foundation has established three art installations in Indonesian waters. Since they serve as shelters for the surrounding marine inhabitants, each of them is named with the Latin word domus, which means home. The first installation, Domus Sepiae (home of squids) was planted at Senggigi Beach; the second one, Domus Longus (the long home) at Wakatobi Island, Southeast Sulawesi; and the third one, Domus Musculi (house of mussels) is now adorning Sepa Island, Jakarta. To ensure the quality of biorock technology, Yayasan Terumbu Rupa collaborated with marine biologists Dalphine Robbe and Ramadian Bachtiar who helped them in making of Domus installations.
Thanks to the work of Yayasan Terumbu Rupa and other marine conservationists, there have since been signs of life and hope in those marine ecosystems.
This is undeniably a positive development not only for Indonesia’s ecology, but also its potential for coastal and marine tourism. That aside, coral reefs are plain important to the human life. Corals supply almost 70 percent of oxygen, feed 30-40 million people every year and play host to about a quarter of all marine life. Corals also protect coastlines from damaging effects of wave action and tropical storm, as well as providing shelter for many marine organisms. It wouldn’t be farfetched to claim that the human life is actually quite dependable on these gorgeous creatures.
For those interested in doing their part, Yayasan Terumbu Rupa welcomes volunteers and donors to join in the work – in many different ways. Its Coral Adoption programme lets anyone to adopt corals for a mere IDR 100 thousand. You’ll then receive a pair of tags, one to keep and the other pinned in a coral at the installation structure.
“Beside the art installations, we also organize a number of activities, such as music performances, stage plays as well as exhibitions in order to generate greater public awareness about the issue,” says Asrul “So far, our initiatives have received many positive feedbacks. We just came back from Outdoor Festival Surabaya earlier in November and are quite happy to see that many visitors show their interest to volunteering in our programmes as we do need more people to support and help us in this project. We also regularly hold seminars at different schools, and surprisingly, many young students are showing interest and willingness to help. We explained to them the importance of coral reefs for fish existence and many of them even interested to go on trip with us as the students are keen to learn more about coral reefs and marine life.”
In the near future, Yayasan Terumbu Rupa is looking forward to many installations to be planted. They also encourage various activities aiming to protect the environment, “We just launched environmentally-friendly natural dye batik in collabolation with skilled batik craftsmen from Losari. The batik is now available and can be purchased through our social media platforms. Inspired by great enthusiasm at the Outfest 2016, we now make new campaign that allows other communities to advise us about potential diving spots in Indonesia that need this installation. Hopefully with this campaign we can make better planning in the future and Yayasan Terumbu Rupa can build more installations and extend its outreach as wide as possible.” Asrul concludes.