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PULAU BANYAK > ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES


Click to enlargePulau Banyak is a truly unique archipelago, so rich in wildlife and beauty. However, there are many threats in the future and a lot of damages have already been done over the years. The reefs, the wild life, and the forests are sensitive. The pressure from illegal activities of greedy businesspeople on the mainland is strong. Poverty and ignorance amongst the locals doesn’t make it better.

The forests are still standing in Pulau Banyak. Pulau Tuangku and Pulau Bangkaru have probably two of the best preserved forests in Sumatra. The main reason is the status as Taman Wisata Alam (kind of Nature Park) since 1996 combined with an active local NGO (Yayasan Pulau Banyak) and a good local forestry policeman.

The turtles has decreased in numbers due to two reasons. The locals have collected all the eggs for many years. Worse is however that turtles have been caught by nets, both by accident and purpose. Muslims don’t eat turtle meat, but poachers from Sibolga hunt for turtles for the non-Muslim markets. The turtle beach on Bangkaru has been protected on and off since 1995.

The Dugong has not been hunted in Pulau Banyak for the last 20 years. However, sometimes Dugongs are caught in nets and sold.

Certain species have been overfished and have almost disappeared, for example the giant clam.

The major concern is definitely the coral reefs. Fifteen years ago the snorkeling next to the main village was very good. Pulau Banyak had vast areas of reefs. Today most of the coral reefs are damaged. There are three reasons for this:

  • Poison
  • Bombs
  • Coral excavation

The destruction can be blamed on the following:

  • Locals
  • Businessmen on the mainland and abroad
  • Ignorant consumers in other countries
  • Government officials
  • International organizations and NGO's.

Poison fishing was introduced in the late 80ies by a fishing company from the mainland. In the mid 90ies the use of poison increased sharply when a Hong Kong connected company started to buy up live fish in Pulau Banyak. The fishermen were taught to use potassium cyanide to catch reef fishes such as Grouper and Lobsters. The fish were exported live to Hong Kong in tank boats. Never eat fish in a restaurant selling live fish. It can contain traces cyanide and drugs used to keep the fish alive. Many areas in Indonesia have been destroyed by these kind of methods. The poison fishing is now not as common as it once was and it is not done openly any longer, since the authorities finally is trying to stop the bad practices.

Bomb fishing increased sharply in the end of the 90ies. It has now stopped totally in Pulau Banyak.

Coral excavation is a huge problem in Pulau Banyak.. The islands have no stone and sand suitable as building material. Originally buildings in Pulau Banyak were built by wood and houses stood on stilts, but now houses are built with stone and cement. Even though coral excavation is strictly forbidden, corals and beach sand has always been used, even in government projects. No one could afford to import stones and sand from the mainland. The corals are sold for Rp. 60.000 per cubic meter, whilst the stones from the mainland cost between Rp. 300.000 and Rp. 400.000 per cubic meter.

Click to enlargeThe problem with coral excavation increased drastically after the earthquakes and tsunami. The eastern islands of Pulau Banyak sank up to one meter, which left many houses standing in water and submerged most of the roads on Pulau Balai. Several International help organizations came after tsunami and built new houses for homeless locals. The problem was that their contractors used corals instead of stone and sand imported from the mainland. Yayasan Tanggul Bencana from Jakarta fired their staff after finding out and changed their way of building and managed to avoid using corals. Swiss Solidarity from Switzerland, working through Hoffnungsnetz, also used corals, but has refused to admit any wrongdoing and claim that they just follow local traditions. In addition to destroying the basis for the fishermen's livelihood by excavation the coral reefs, they also use the cheapest wood available. This wood, locally called Basung, will rot away within a year.

The worst case of them all was a project to raise the level of the ring road around Pulau Balai. According to a qualified guess, 20.000 cubic meters of corals were used, all financed by The World Bank. The culprits were the contractors appointed, but the lack of control by The World Bank has caused irreparable damages. Unfortunately the road was almost completed when they were informed. The World Bank has shown no regrets and done nothing to lessen the damages in Pulau Banyak.

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