Thursday, 26 June 2008

Riau's threatened Indragiri 'a serious cause for concern

Riau's threatened Indragiri 'a serious cause for concern

Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post, Pekanbaru 26th June

Fishing communities in the Indragiri River delta in Riau risk losing their livelihoods because alarmingly high rates of mangrove destruction have led to dwindling biodiversity in the area, a local official said Tuesday.

Alimudin, head of the Indragiri Hilir regency's Mining and Environmental Agency, said 553.74 square kilometers of mangrove swamps, half the regency's coastline had been severely damaged.

He said logging companies were the main culprits behind the damage, having operated in the area since the 1990s.

"They have turned hundreds of thousands of hectares of mangrove swamp into wasteland, parts of which are now permanently submerged by seawater," he said.

Alimudin said several species of marine life, such as shrimps, crabs and fish, were now increasingly rare because of the loss of their natural habitat.
He said the environmental damage would be extremely difficult to overcome because of a lack of funds to help restore the wetlands.
"The only way to prevent the extinction of marine life in the area is to restore the ecosystem of the mangrove swamps. However, we can't do much about it without the funds," he said.

Wirman, head of the local fisheries and maritime agency, said his office had repeatedly requested funds from the provincial administration and government to build permanent embankments protected by mangrove trees. However, he said, there was no response yet to any of the requests.
"This is a serious cause for concern," he said.

He added around 2,500 fishermen risked losing their way of life if the mangrove swamps, the natural breeding grounds for fish, continued to be destroyed. He said the damage would also weaken the natural buffer against sea erosion.

"Shrimp farmers can only overcome the threat of tidal flooding by building embankments and replanting mangrove trees," he said.

Severe damage to mangroves is also on the rise in neighboring Rokan Hilir regency's Bangko district.

Wan Achmad Syaiful, head of the local forestry office, said more than 1,000 hectares of protected mangrove swamps had been destroyed by loggers.
"Police have identified the perpetrators and are gathering evidence for the case against them," he said.

About Rp 1.6 billion (US$166,000) in losses is incurred by the state through illegal logging in protected mangrove swamps every year, while misappropriation of reforestation funds amounts to US$14,454, he said.
"We will increase surveillance in protected areas and coordinate with the police to apprehend those responsible for the damage," he said.

Delfitri Akbar, executive director of the Bahtera Melayu environmental group and the recipient of the 2008 Kalpataru environmental award, urged the government to restore mangrove swamps by immediately planting new trees. She also called for increased engagement of local fishing communities in the effort.

"The fishing communities have long depended on the mangrove swamps. If logging is to be prohibited, then the most effective solution is to engage them as participants," she said.

"The government should pay coastal residents to replant mangrove trees. Don't apply labor-intensive methods that will leave them indifferent.
"Apart from creating new jobs, the effort will bring about mangrove swamp sustainability."

Delfitri also urged the government to allow people the opportunity to be involved in mangrove restoration projects without having to go through a tender process.