Indonesia: Mangrove coastal shield rapidly being destroyed

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 6 Feb 17;

Mangrove conservation is largely still being neglected by the government, even though the country’s swamps, a crucial guardian of the coasts amid a rising sea level, are facing the highest rate of destruction in recent decades.

The country’s mangroves are increasingly being threatened by oil palm plantation expansion as well as various reclamation projects.

Mangroves, which are unique among the world’s plants as they can survive in saltwater and can filter seawater, have the capacity to keep pace with sea level rises.

According to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), some mangrove forests in the country can survive from sea level rises as they accumulate 4 millimeters of sediment every year, more than the average sealevel rise rate, which is 1.8 mm per year.

“This is way above the mean increment rises of sea levels,” CIFOR senior scientist Daniel Murdiyarso said. “Mangroves can cope with that because they manage to accumulate sediment of up to 4 mm a year without any intervention.”

Besides keeping pace with sea level rises, mangrove can also prevent erosion.

Research by the University of Southampton found that areas without mangroves were more susceptible to erosion and encroaching water, whereas mangrove regions could prevent these impacts — which is likely due to soil building up around their root mesh — as their roots acted as dissipaters of waves and tidal currents.

The archipelago is rich in mangroves, with about 3 million hectares of mangrove forests growing along the country’s 95,000-kilometer coastline, or 23 percent of the entire world’s mangrove ecosystem.

However, these mangroves are disappearing at an alarming rate. In fact, the nation has the fastest rate of mangrove destruction in the world as it has lost 40 percent of its mangroves over the past three decades.

“The rate of conversion in Indonesia is very high at 2 percent. Every year we’re losing 52,000 ha of mangroves. That is the same as losing three football fields of mangrove a week,” Daniel said. “From recent findings in 2015, the loss of mangroves are not only caused by fish, shrimp, aquaculture development, but also caused by oil palm plantation development.”

There is a lack of national guidelines on how to conserve and restore mangroves.

While there was Presidential Regulation No. 73/2012 on the national mangrove ecosystem management strategy, it still was not sufficient, said Daniel.

“It’s the only regulation but it is merely coordinative. Within the regulation, it specifies who should do what but it doesn’t say anything about how,” he said.

Second, mangrove conservation is not included in the National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation (RAN-API).

Instead of utilizing mangroves as a natural protector against sea level rises, the government opts to use artificial means, such as a giant seawall to protect cities from rising seas.

For example, a seawall is being constructed to enclose Jakarta Bay, which is be part of the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD) program. The project also includes land reclamation and the construction of 17 artificial islets.

Daniel said the reclamation project would have a devastating impact to the mangrove ecosystem in North Jakarta, which was already dying.

The giant seawall’s existence and the islets will disrupt the stability of the ocean tides, something which highly affects mangrove growth.

However, the Jakarta administration has signaled that it would proceed with the controversial project after having completed its strategic environmental assessment (KLHS).

Wetlands International-Indonesia director Nyoman N. Suryadiputra said if the reclamation had to proceed, then at least the developers of the project should design the shoreline of the manmade islets so that mangroves could grow naturally.

“I visited islets C and D recently and apparently there were already mangroves growing along the shoreline. But I am worried about a levee being built between the islets and the Muara Angke ecotourism park, which would definitely destroy the local mangrove forest,” he told The Jakarta Post.

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