Sea of Biological Wealth in Indonesia, but No Database

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 19 Feb 12;

Indonesia might lay claim to being the country with the second-highest level of biodiversity in the world after Brazil, but the government has no database to catalogue that wealth, an official says.

Vidya S. Nalang, the head of the Environment Ministry’s Genetic Resources Management Program, said over the weekend that all the government had was a clearing house with limited information on resources such as plant and animal species.

“We used to have a database with the full data from 2005-10 on the medicinal properties [of plants],” she said. “But we had to take it down pending negotiations for the Nagoya Protocol.”

The protocol, part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which Indonesia has ratified, aims to regulate the use of genes from plants or animals that originate in other countries and ensure that all nations are compensated fairly for discoveries that are derived from their native species.

Vidya said that in the absence of a government agency to compile a database of the country’s biodiversity, the state had assigned the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) to take over the task, given that it already had its own database and research.

Indonesia is ranked in the top 5 worldwide for its plant biodiversity, with 55 percent of that diversity endemic to Indonesia, according to the CBD.

In addition, the archipelago is home to 12 percent of the world’s mammals, 17 percent of its birds and 16 percent of reptiles, while its waters are home to 450 of the 700 coral species in the world.

The LIPI previously said that as of 2010, it had identified and catalogued at least 2.5 million specimens of fauna and 2 million specimens of plants but that efforts to build up a comprehensive database were held back by a lack of government attention and old, crashing computers.

“Because we have limited technology but plenty to upload, the computer crashed a few years ago,” Siti Nuramaliati Prijono, director of LIPI’s Center for Biology, said last March. “The scientists then got upset because when they tried to upload their data, it all disappeared. Now we have the system up and running, but not all the data can be accessed at the same time. Some of the data is hosted on the old system and the rest on the new one.”

Siti said another problem was that after all the trouble involved in uploading the data, the information was mostly left unused, even by experts in the country.

The government’s response at the time was that it would set up a working database prior to a key meeting on the Nagoya Protocol in New York last May. However, the site meant to host the data,, has been blank since last year.

Arief Yuwono, the deputy head for environmental damage control and climate change at the Environment Ministry, said last year that part of the problem was that biodiversity issues were being shunted aside in favor of more popular issues such as climate change.