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Turning the tide: Let nature reclaim the reclamation islands

  • Muamar Vebry

    Program manager for climate change for the European Union delegation to Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam

Jakarta | Thu, September 7, 2017 | 03:05 pm
Turning the tide: Let nature reclaim the reclamation islands The reclamation project activity in Jakarta Bay on Dec. 15, 2015. (JP/Jerry Adiguna)

At least 17 artificial islands with a projected total area as big as Bogor regency in West Java are queuing in the pipeline; the project significantly will alter and degrade the already fragile environment slong the coast of Jakarta. The artificial islands will change sea currents which can lead to the erosion of nearby natural islands or even cause more flooding of the city. Fishermen have protested, saying that the project will affect their catch, and that they must go further out to sea to fish, increasing their gasoline expenses.

We need to understand better the impact of such big artificial human built creations and its links to the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity. The cost benefit analysis that is usually conducted is inadequate as the loss of ecosystem services is usually not well quantified. The approach to measure the loss of services and marine biodiversity should be done using more robust analytical tools such as applying the total economic valuation technique that puts the ecosystem services at the heart of the equation.

There are high hopes that the new government of Jakarta which starts in October should cancel all the planned future reclamation islands while reclamation of the islands called C, D and G should be terminated, audited, to be further decided on their best functions for public use. Jakarta deputy governor-elect Sandiaga Uno has reaffirmed the new government’s stance to stop the reclamation.

As a trained and urban planner exposed to nature conservation aspects, my view is that the already-formed islands should be used for the good of our environment as we need to address the loss of marine ecosystems in Jakarta’s bay progressively.

The keyword is ecosystem restoration, a means to appropriate the environmental damages and turn what has been lost during the reclamation into substantial environmental gains. Marine biodiversity has been disturbed and altered due to massive reclamation so therefore it is our duty now to conduct the readjustment and to create a new equilibrium that will benefit the natural ecosystem, replacing what has been lost due to human intervention.

In that vein, the new government of Jakarta should consider foresting the land cover with the local and endemic trees species, combined with systematic mangrove introduction on its shores. Turning those islands into forested space will significantly reduce greenhouse gas and other dangerous particles from the atmosphere. In addition, introducing mangrove will create an enabling environment for vast arrays of marine species to breed, which economically will  benefit the local communities and fishermen.

Imagine the reforested artificial islands in another ten or 15 years from now where mother nature has taken over. Among many other benefits besides ecotourism potentials, such islands could also be the alternative for migrating birds, replacing substantial amount of bird migration hotspots along the coastline that are under tremendous pressure from human intervention.

Migratory birds need multiple sites to find adequate food resources on their journey. Increase of human population and the fastest growing economies threatens the bird’s migration considerably. Fifty bird species are at risk of extinction in the past 24 years. Natural system modification is the biggest threat to the birds’ Southeast Asia migration route due to loss of wetlands because of land reclamation. Islands number C, D and G may have just saved many birds from extinction if we choose to embark with the ecosystem restoration.  

All of these may sound like a distant utopia but nonetheless it is attainable. The question is how bold is the new government to orchestrate the ecosystem restoration? Will the fishes and the birds win or will the capital, as always?

***

The writer is program manager for climate change for the European Union Delegation to Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam. This article is a personal view and does not reflect the EU policy.

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