Seaweed made its way back home

August 21, 2023

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, Nusa Lembongan has been less busy than it used to be, just like anywhere else. But there is something different in Nusa Lembongan. 

On regular days, the road was packed with vehicles and people running around. Most of them were tourists, foreigners as well as locals. Cafes were always a full house. Meanwhile, the only quiet part of the island was the beach facing Nusa Ceningan. You can expect to see only a few seaweed farmers around that beach. Now things are turned 180 degrees. Cafes are closed. Motorbike rentals got dusted.

In contrast during the pandemic, the beach gets crowded. We can see the seaweed farming patches stretches out to Nusa Ceningan Island. The entire islanders now become seaweed farmers. People who worked in the laundry, spa, car and motorbike rental and hotel businesses are currently working in seaweed farming. The tide was coming up that morning when an old lady slowly walked up to the road from the sea. Her grandson waited for her with his motorbike, ready to roll. Ni Wayan Uri – the grandmother, sat on the seat and rode home with her grandson. Ni Wayan Uri – affectionately called Meme, is 70 years old but still in good shape. For the past year, Meme has worked for seaweed farming and is responsible for attaching the seaweed to the rope lines. In a day, she can finish about 20–30 rope lines and get paid IDR1K for every rope by her neighbour, who owns the seaweed farm. Meme does not work on the seaweed farm daily; she only works by order.

When the tourism industry arose in Nusa Lembongan in the early 1990s, people switched their livelihood from seaweed farming slowly. Many senior island citizens felt sad since no one hiring them to tying the seaweed. Anymore. Meanwhile, that was the only job that feasible for seniors. 

Meme and her husband, Wayan Surat, live in the same neighbourhood with their son and his family. It is common in Bali where parents live independently but are still close to their children. The parents live in the smaller house where their son lives in a bigger house nearby.  Wayan Surat now is an 81-year-old grandfather who already lost his eyesight.

Meme lost her mother at birth and was taken care by her stepmother. In her youth, Meme used to work in the field, growing corn, yams, bananas, and beans. Now, Meme and her husband cannot work in the field anymore. Aside from losing eyesight, they already leased their land to some businessperson for 15 years. Initially, the tenant wanted to build various tourism facilities. But nothing happened yet, except the land got eroded by the waves. Meme also sells canang (a daily offering by Balinese Hindus) as additional income. Canang is the simplest form of the Balinese Hindus' offering, made of the coconut tree’s leaves, and filled with colourful flowers, incense, and other minor ingredients. Back in the day, adult women need to be able to make their canang. But now, people prefer to buy one instead. The basic price of canang is IDR3K, and adding up with further requests, such as extra cigarettes, tobaccos, lime, areca nut, and betel leaf; the price is IDR5K. People can also order a Dewa Bharata offering dish from Meme, which covers oranges, bananas, dadap leaves, cananga, pandan, and various Balinese snacks.

In 1989, Meme and her husband tried to run their seaweed farming in 1989 with six plots. However, the business started to decline in 1999 when the tourism sector flourished.Their seaweed farming collapsed in 2004. That was when Meme started making canang and pandanus mats for sale. Now, it is tough to get pandan leaves in Nusa Lembongan. 

In 2019, seaweed farming slowly took its re-entrance in Nusa Lembongan. Meme got back to work as a worker on a seaweed farm.By that time, Meme helped Suarbawa – a pioneer in seaweed farming on the island, also a field officer of an organization named Kalimanjari. Meme was involved in a seaweed strain purification program funded by the GEF-SGP Phase VI.

We can see some people on the horizon. They are seaweed workers, either harvesting or installing the seaweed ropes. Nusa Lembongan had its golden seaweed era from the 80s to the 90s, when many locals financed their children as university graduates, thanks to Nusa Lembongan's seaweed farming. Based on this history, Nusa Lembongan people believe that the pandemic is God's way of reminding them of the seaweed. Back to nature. Today, Meme and tens of other elders of Lembongan can smile again. Seaweed become part of Nusa Lembongan people economic life again.


Writer: Ery Damayanti and Harijanto Suwarno

Photographer: Edy Susanto

GEF SGP Indonesia support Nusa Lembongan Seaweed projects