Tiny Carbon Footprints in the Sand

Pulau Macan – Working towards a small “sustainable” island community

Part of what I love about living in Indonesia is that I have friends here who have created unconventional careers for themselves. One of these friends is Roderick, he runs a small Eco-Resort on a tiny island just 1.5 hours off the Jakarta harbor.

This island, Pulau Macan or Tiger Islands, is a speck in the clutter of islands called “Thousand Islands“. In reality, there are about 120. Less than 10 of them have tourist resorts on them, most of them are uninhabited, and some of them have larger island populations of up to a couple of thousand people. Even though they are easily accessible by speedboat from Jakarta for a weekend trip, they have not been that popular with tourists.

Some of these islands are privately “owned” (long-term-leased from the government) oftentimes by wealthy businesspeople who rarely ever make it out to “their” island and usually have a caretaker family looking after it. Tiger Island is one of those islands, it´s owner however agreed to let my friend Roderick rent and manage the island into an Eco-Resort that would be attractive enough for tourists from Jakarta.

This was about 4 years ago, and Tiger Island is now mostly booked out during weekends with a capacity of up to 40 people, and is still quite busy during weekdays. In these years, Pulau Macan has evolved from a tiny island with a few run-down buildings on it into a beautiful weekend getaway for the eco-conscious, with a form of open air lab for green technologies attached.

On my last visit I asked Drigo to give me a tour of the status quo of the island´s eco technologies.

Energy

The island was dependant on importing gasoline from the mainland or other islands in order to power its generator. Importing gallons of gasoline on boats which in turn run on gasoline is, as one can imagine, costly and ineffective. This may have been ok when there was only one family living, but would become increasingly more difficult with more and more guests visiting the island.

One of the major improvements for the island was the investment in a “stand alone” solar panel system which charges up batteries when the sun is bright and makes this energy available at night and on overcast days.

Solar panels on jetty

To install the system was not cheap, but since it offers a  free source of energy and the technology is guaranteed for up to 10 years, it can be easily calculated that the investment pays back.

The "battery pack". Excess energy is stored during the day, converted and released by night if needed

The island requires about 200 Watts of energy during the day, this mainly to run kitchen appliances such as the fridge, and 1000 watts at night, when all lights are on.

Currently 80% of the island´s energy needs can be covered by the solar panels. The rest still needs to be supplemented by generator. A way of improving this might be the successive exchange of energy saving lightbulbs to LED and the installment of an additional power source such as a wind turbine. Or simply more solar panels?

Water

The other major issue on the island is water. This encompasses the freshwater needed for drinking, showering and washing, as well as the management of wastewater on the island.

Rainwater collecting system

Like gasoline, fresh and drinking water needs to be imported from the main land or neighboring islands. Pulau Macan does not have a well.

Bamboo pipe system drains rainwater off roofs and filters it into a large container

To ease the need for expensive water, a simple rain water collecting system was installed. Basically rain is cought in drainage pipes off the roofs of the larger buildings. The water is transportet through an above-ground bamboo piping system and filtered into a large drum. However, in the process the water picks up particles from the bamboo and disintegrating leaves, so that the water is eventually not clean enough to supply guest huts, due to brownish color that is in itself not harmful but looks unhealthy.

The rainwater collected is momentarily used for watering the island and cleaning around the house and boats.

Right now, only a small percentage of potential rain water is collected, which makes sense since its use is so limited. Fresh water still needs to be imported for drinking, cooking and showering. If a way was found of storing more and cleaner rainwater, this might reduce the need for the island to import fresh water significantly.

Wastewater management

The water from showers and sinks is captured, filtered, and reused for watering the gardens. This requires the use of biodegradable, non-harmful chemicals in soaps, shampoos and detergents.

The toilets don´t factor into the use of fresh water, because they flush with salt water from the sea.

Most of the wastewater from the toilets is captured in septic tanks. One pilot toilet so to speak, has a more sophisticated “artificial wetland” attached to it.

artificial wetlands - here saltwater version with baby mangroves

In this system, the (salty) wastewater seeps through a series of gravel/sand/coral/pineleaves filled tanks, and on top of these mangrove plants grow, freeing the water from some of the harmful nutrients before the waste water seeps back out into the sea.

Ecology

Compost and Gardens

Kitchen wastes are composted in deisgnated areas around the island.  This compost is used in the gardens…

..

Growing some aloe vera, chillies and papaya

… however, the gardens are still the problem child of the island, at is has been very difficult to grow anything substantial so far, most likely due to the overall high salinity of the soil or an acidity problem which might stem from the many pineleaves from surrounding trees.

Compost pit and chicken playground

The compost pits are a favorite with the island chicken, which roam around freely and dig happily in the dirt. Their job is to hunt for worms and centipedes, which can become a nuisance if they have no natural enemy. Some mice were also introduced to the island to help with the hunt for centipedes. The mice in turn are hunted by the local monitor lizard and some hawks and owls.

Driftwood

A lot of dirftwood reaches the thousand islands, and Roderick and his team occasionally collect driftwood on the beaches of the neighboring islands.

Roderick on a pile of wood

A lot of the island furniture is made out of the driftwood that finds its way there. It makes the interior of each hut unique, like in this beautiful open air, ocean facing coral hut.

Some ideas

Pulau Macan is not a zero-carbon footprint self-sustainable miracle yet. But I do find 80% of energy use from solar pretty impressive. I guess made possible by the fact that very little energy is needed, especially during the day.

Some ideas are floating around, still waiting to be imeplemented and tested.

1. Would planting in a greenhouse environment lead to better results? The soil might be healthier, and pine leaves would be kept out. Should be easy to try on a small scale.

2. A fish farm would be an obvious asset. Right now fish is bought on farms on neighboring islands. Fishing in the waters surrounding the islands is not advisable, since they are already largely overfished.

3. Windturbine to assist the solar panels. There´s always a nice breeze.

4. Of course: algae farm. As additional food source and fertilizer? Or even energy source?

5. Live there? The obvious major flaw to the eco-conscious mind is that you still need to get out there, usually on a gas-eating speedboat. Yea, you could sail, but this takes too long for a weekend trip. Of course living there longer term and cutting back on the number of trips to the mainland would help. 3G connection is pretty stable…

One Response to “Tiny Carbon Footprints in the Sand”

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