Located a short 22 kilometres from Bali, Nusa Ceningan should have a hint of the ever-wild tourism flame that its surrounding islands have seemed to kindle over the last decade. Instead, Ceningan has managed to retain an intimate charm all its own. Guaranteed manta sightings and Mola mola encounters are just some of what this sleepy island has to offer. UW360 Editor, Oliver Jarvis, speaks to Robert Scales, one of five founding partners of Ceningan Divers, who is part of an enthusiastic team set on keeping Nusa Ceningan a sustainability-oriented location offering visitors an authentic experience.
“We wanted to create a space that reflected our combined values and goals,” Scales states, when asked why they started a dive resort on the island, “[and] Ceningan is a magical place.” Tucked away between coconut trees in a mangrove sanctuary, the resort speaks island paradise. Its “barely touched” surrounding landscape offers a taste of both Balinese and island culture. “We are off the beaten path, the way Bali was 30 years ago [but that’s] something that us and our guests cherish.” With just a few resorts and restaurants, it’s a unique environment that is slowly turning to fresh and sustainable tourism opportunities.
Located at the heart of the Coral Triangle, widely regarded as one of the best dive regions in the world, the Nusa Islands offer a whole raft of exciting underwater encounters, according to Scales. “Around the islands we see mantas, all year long; sunfish, between July and October; schools of tropical fish; turtles; scorpionfish; giant trevally; tuna; marble and eagle rays; occasional whale sharks; and various types of sharks, such as bamboo, reef, blacktips, whitetips, thrasher sharks and hammerheads (although we are seeing less and less).”
A quarter of that list alone would be enough to tick a few boxes on any diver’s bucket list. The underwater seascape, ranging from bays to deep walls, brings a diverse spread of marine creatures. There’s a variety of diving to be done, and with so many possibilities, it’s difficult to single out a favourite.
“[Some of us] have a thing for [the dive site] Toyopakeh,” explains Scales. “It is easy to understand why when you see the diversity of coral and marine life. Manta Point offers its rewards, with a good possibility to see manta rays at the cleaning stations on a calm day. Drifting along the north side is something magical, as you are blessed with not just a great marine ecosystem, but you can enjoy the spectacular view of Mount Agung in Bali and Mount Rinjani in Lombok.”
Aside from the diving, travellers can hike through the islands, cycle along the dirt tracks and many roads, and explore the surrounding villages by moped. Those who wish to remain closer to the ocean can hire a standup paddleboard or kayak and explore the mangrove sanctuary. Nusa Ceningan is perfectly located: Short boat rides take you to remote beaches of far-flung islands, or to the hustle and bustle of Bali beach life. There are many things that visitors to the island can get up to, both on and around Ceningan.
With delicate surrounding marine ecosystems, it is fundamental that all resorts and businesses on the island behave in a sustainable manner.
“It’s not a question of importance. It’s a necessity!” says Scales. “The main focus of our work in the past year was to convert all of our facilities to operate as an eco-friendly resort and dive centre. We are working hard to achieve this. Consulting with environmental design experts and industry leaders to finish our action plan by January 2018.” From reducing their carbon footprint by buying local produce, to using bio-septic systems for waste, Ceningan Resort has revolutionised the way they do business, and set an example for other dive resorts to follow.
“We as a business have an obligation to help ensure that everything we do at our resort and on the island is done in a sustainable way. We owe it to the local communities to ensure that our practices have the smallest impact on the island and its inhabitants,” insists Scales. “We have a duty of care to the local environment, the people and the guests we take on to provide solutions that are eco-friendly.”
For Robert, being an eco-friendly resort goes hand in hand with improving customer experience and the general atmosphere of the area. In the high season, they can have up to 20 guests staying and dozens of people diving – this generates a lot of waste, and requires energy, water and other resources. However, Ceningan Resort’s sustainable methods are mitigating the effects of tourism on the island.
To keep any tourist island sustainable there needs to be a community willing to actively conserve it, and a tourist industry willing to sustain the livelihoods of the community. “We wanted to find a place where we could help the community build new, sustainable programmes and grow our team by contributing to the local economy and the well-being of local families,” Scales says. Since their opening in 2015, they have worked hard to build lasting friendships with the island’s residents, and have employed locals to work at the resort.
That’s the beauty of an island tucked away from the major tourist destinations: Resorts can observe and learn from certain environmental challenges that the surrounding islands have encountered and establish an operation that not only benefits the visitors that come to stay, but which also benefits the community. Nusa Ceningan, beyond the wildly lit skies of Bali and through the unique underwater encounters with sharks, sunfish and rays, is tipped to be one of the hottest dive destinations in the next five years.
*Feature Image by Arkadiy Almendieiev