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Bali fights trashy beaches

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Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP/Newscom

(Read caption) People help to clean up Bali’s popular Kuta Beach.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Visitors to Bali, Indonesia, expecting pristine sands and crystal-clear waters have been surprised recently to find instead muddied seas floating with clouds of plastic garbage and towering beach dunes of waste.

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Time magazine first delivered the warning that some parts of Bali are far from paradise with an article in early April that slammed the resort island for its piles of garbage, water shortages, traffic jams, and unchecked development.

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But Cepeh, who works as a beach sweeper, says trash chokes the beach here every rainy season. The problem, he says, is with trash collection. Most of the island’s garbage is dumped in open lots, where it washes into rivers that flush out to the sea.

Bali authorities have countered the criticism, saying they’re ready to take action to keep the island safe and clean for foreign visitors, whose numbers have nearly doubled since 2001 from 1.3 million to 2.4 million last year.

Some tourists have moved on from the hugely popular Kuta Beach, where a recent bacteria bloom forced authorities to keep people from swimming for more than 30 minutes because of the risk of skin infections. Others, drop-jawed, have snapped pictures of the piles of refuse or stuck to sunbathing on shore.

And yet some hearty surfers seem undeterred altogether by the trashy environs, wading past the garbage to ride the waves alongside plastic straws and detergent labels.