Indonesia: Balikpapan Bay’s Ecosystem Faces Multiple Threats

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 28 May 14;

Balikpapan. The morning sun peeked behind dark clouds looming over the fishing village of Gersik in North Penajam Paser district, East Kalimantan. The wharf buzzed with activity, crowded with fishing skippers and buyers. They waited for fishing boats to return from Balikpapan Bay. After glimpsing the catch they made bargains, before transporting their purchases to a market for trade.

Darman, 46, a fisherman living in Gersik fishing village, looked disappointed with his haul. Of the six big buckets he had prepared, only two were filled with fish. The rest of them were empty. This could barely cover the cost of going to sea.

“The cost of the diesel is higher than the money I earn from my catch,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not bad, but sometimes there is no catch at all.”

The father of two sons said approximately 1,000 fishermen living along the coast of Balikpapan Bay began reporting declining catches from the end of 2009. Before that, each small fishing boat, known locally as kapal dogol , was able to bring home up to 50 kilograms of fish on each trip. But now, 10 kg is the most that they can net — leaving many struggling to support their families.

Darman says the declining income of fishermen at Balikpapan Bay is tied to the damaged fishing habitats.

The upstream area of Balikpapan Bay now hosts a number of oil palm plantations and coal mines. Deforestation to build a crude palm oil refinery and a port for coal transport has resulted in the accumulation of sediment in the bay.

“Every year, the bay shallows by one or two meters. In the past three years, it is estimated to have shallowed by five meters,” said Darman, who is also an assistant to environmental researchers in the area. “Now the bay is only 15 meters deep. Before that, it was as deep as 20 meters.”

“The high rate of sedimentation has led to the destruction of coral reefs. This is because of the cutting down of mangrove forests and the reclamation of land for industrial and agriculture.”

He said the administrations of North Penajam Paser and Balikpapan should jointly enact a zonation system — comprised of a protection zone and commercial zone. He said the upstream area of Balikpapan Bay, meanwhile, should be protected and kept free of human activities. Balikpapan Bay is one of Indonesia’s biodiversity hubs — thanks to several unique ecosystems it hosts: primary forests (including the protected Sungai Wain Forest), mangrove forests, coral reefs and seagrass beds.

The area consists of 150 square kilometers of shallow sea, 170 square kilometers of mangrove forests, 50 square kilometers of primary tropical forests and more than 100 square kilometers of secondary tropical forests — forest areas that had been burned but have regenerated and are in good condition.

Balikpapan Bay, covering 211.456 hectares of watershed and 16.000 hectares of waters, is home to some 1,400 proboscis monkeys, known locally as bekantan , representing 5 percent of the total proboscis monkey population worldwide. Marine animals like dolphins, dugongs, sea turtles and saltwater crocodiles inhabit the waters, while orangutans, sun bears, Sunda clouded leopards, eight species of hornbills, among others, dwell in the forests. More than 100 species of mammals, nearly 300 bird species and around 1,000 species of trees (including more than 30 mangrove species) inhabit Balikpapan Bay. The area is also known to be home of a dragonfly and a ginger species found nowhere else.

“That is an extraordinary biodiversity for an urban area. Across the Asian continent, there is no other city with such high biodiversity,” said a zoologist from the Czech Republic’s University of South Bohemia, Stanislav Lhota, who has been conducting research at Balikpapan Bay for the past eight years.

He said the ecosystems of the bay were crucial with huge biodiversity and potentials for ecotourism, and also because of the carbon storage of its mangrove forests.

Protected mangrove forests can become a very precious asset in carbon trade, Lhota said. The bay’s ecosystems also support the livelihoods of the local people, most of who work as fishermen. Thousands of fishermen in Balikpapan city and North Penajam Paser district — concentrated especially in Gersik, Jenebora, Lango Beach and Maridan Tanjung villages — rely on Balikpapan Bay for their lives.

“I’ve witnessed destruction of Balikpapan Bay since 2005,” Lhota said. “If we let the destruction of the ecosystems continue, everyone will feel the pinch of losing a main source of life, and poverty in coastal areas will become a very heavy problem.”

Ecosystem destruction in North Penajam Paser, where more than 80 percent of Balikpapan Bay’s watershed is located, is caused by three main problems: oil palm plantations, coal mining and acacia plantations. Not only have they destroyed forests and traditional farms, as well as disrupt river flows, they are the main cause of soil erosion and sedimentation, and are a main producer of waste, including fertilizer and herbicide runoff.

In Balikpapan, meanwhile, the main threat is industrial activity, which also uses a large amount of palm oil, acacia woods and coal.

“Companies’ activities along the coast of Balikpapan are threatening the marine life, with sedimentation rate now as high as two meters per year,” Lhota said. “This must be anticipated. The sediments are forming layers covering coral reef, which will eventually die although it’s a breeding ground for fish.”

The pace of destruction has worsened since the Balikpapan administration issued a policy on the expansion of the Kariangau Industrial Zone, from 2,189 hectares to 5,130 hectares, coupled with a plan to build the Pulau Balang Bridge and connecting roads.

Jufriansyah, the director executive of Center for Environment Partnership and Empowerment Program (Stabil), said as many as 70 percent of 30,000 mangrove forests in Balikpapan and North Penajam Paser district have been destroyed. In three years time, hundreds of mangrove forests have turned into industrial areas.

Neither the Balikpapan nor the North Penajam Paser administration, though, has taken firm action against companies allegedly responsible for the environmental damage.

The Kalimantan Coast Foundation, meanwhile, has released alarming data, saying as much as 90 percent of coral reef in the area is damaged.

Fahruddin, head of the Balikpapan office of the Environmental Agency (BPLHD Balikpapan) admitted that coral reefs in Balikpapan Bay had been severely damaged due to the high rate of sedimentation.

Activists Call for Efforts to Save Balikpapan Bay
Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 28 May 14;

Balikpapan. Environmental activists say a strong political will is needed to safeguard the ecosystems of the Balikpapan Bay from further destruction, calling on two local administrations to show serious efforts towards achieving this.

Environmental activist Izal Wardana said the administrations of Balikpapan city and North Penajam Paser district in East Kalimantan actually already issued regulations intended to protect Balikpapan Bay from environmental damage, but that these are not being implemented.

“Actually only political will is needed from both regions to seriously protect the environment,” said Izal, former executive director of the East Kalimantan office of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi). “Because the regulations — starting from laws, government regulations and bylaws — are already in place, except for the implementation.”

He cited as examples the 1990 Law on Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystems, which protects rare animal species and threatens offenders with as many as five years in prison and fines of up to Rp 100 million ($8,600).

Then there is also the 1998 government regulation on natural reserve zones, among other regulations.

“So, once more, this is all about political will from both the Balikpapan city administration and the Penajaam Paser district administration, including how to redesign activities that have led to the cutting of mangrove forests as a habitat of rare species,” Izal said. “The reality is, the two regions’ development programs have been carried out at the expense of rare animals’ habitat.”

Among the development projects, he said, is the development of an industrial zone, as well as the construction of a port and a container terminal in Kariangau.

“Then there’s also the TransKalimantan highway project, as well as the construction of the bridge connecting Balikpapan and North Penajam Paser.”

Imdaad Hamid, head of the Kariangau Industrial Zone, meanwhile said the private sector needed encouragement to get involved in environmental protection efforts, such as by offering them incentives in the form of tax cuts if they preserve mangrove forests growing in their areas.

“For example, if they have 100 hectares of land, they have to make 40 hectares an open green area or a mangrove forest,” said Imdaad, also former mayor of Balikpapan. “After that, they pay tax only for 60 hectares of land even though their land certificate says 100 hectares. So the remainder should be free from tax.”

“We can’t do this ourselves. Now the question is, how to get these businesses to participate in environmental protection efforts?”

He added that businesses could partner with other organizations to carry out these green policies, such as with SMAN 8 Balikpapan state high school known to have been actively involved in mangrove protection activities.

Suryanto, head of the Balikpapan Development Planning Agency, meanwhile, said the Kariangau Industrial Zone development was now directed toward “green industry” with the implementation of zero waste and zero sediment concepts.

Companies in the industrial zone will be obliged to apply the 3R waste management rule — reduce, reuse and recycle — and to build sediment traps to reduce the rate of sedimentation in Balikpapan Bay.

However, Suryanto did not mention when all of these environmentally policies were expected to take effect.