Severe sedimentation and pollution, especially from household waste, are slowly and surely degrading the marine environment in Ambon Bay.
To make matters worse, waste gathers in the bay area where it is trapped by the rapid tides.
According to studies conducted by the Ambon chapter of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), the ecological destruction in Ambon Bay is due to damage that is increasingly difficult to overcome or reverse.
The current development process, which ignores social and ecological aspects, has further worsened the area's condition.
Consequently, a number of marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, are facing further threats.
A researcher at the Ambon office of LIPI's Marine Biota Conservation Center (BKBL), Daniel Sapulette, told The Jakarta Post in Ambon recently that the underwater topography of Ambon Bay was unique because of the irregular water circulation process in the bay area.
"Not only waste, but everything gets trapped in the bay, including the exchange of fresher water from the open sea. The tidal movement is also rapid," Sapulette said.
Ali Mochtar, head of LIPI's Environmental Health Technical Center in Ambon, said it would be hard to restore Ambon Bay to its original condition.
One of the concerns, he said, was that the bay and its seabed could act as a garbage dump for all sorts of toxic waste.
Mochtar said a recent study conducted by his office found high concentrations of heavy metal almost exceeding tolerable levels in several locations.
"Mercury has accumulated around waters off Galala village," he said, adding the bay area could no longer support marine farming for local communities.
A high concentration of lead, reaching 15.28 mg/kg, has also been found in sediment around the fuel depot in Waiyame and the diesel power station in Galala, while lead has been found in the waters around the regional fishing port in Tantui.
The coastal ecosystem around Ambon Bay is facing damage from gradual sedimentation and waste, with coral reefs likely to suffer the most severe damage.
Comparable studies on the condition of coral reefs in 1985 and 2007 showed drastic changes, with 23.7 percent of reefs in Ambon Bay being damaged during that period.
For example, in 1985, there was coral reef coverage in 60 percent of the waters around Liliboy village, but by 2007 this had dropped to 28.4 percent.
A BKBL researcher at Ambon LIPI, Freddy Leatemia, said the main causes of the damage to the coral in Ambon Bay were sedimentation and pollution.
"In Ery village, for example, the coral reefs have been buried by organic and nonorganic waste, including electronic goods, such as television sets and radios," he said.
According to Leatimia, none of the coral reefs in Ambon Bay is in good condition, even though some are faring better than other coastal ecosystems, such as mangroves.
"Its existence will be at further risk if waste and sedimentation are not stopped now," said Leatimia, adding that residents were still dumping waste into the rivers that empty into the sea.
Deforestation to develop residential and commercial areas in Ambon city is also contributing to the alarming rate of environmental damage, especially of the marine ecosystem. The extent of the damage is particularly great given that Ambon is a small island of only 775 square kilometers of mostly hilly terrain.
Areas that previously acted as buffer zones and catchment areas, such as Air Besar, Kayu Putih and Bukit Lateri, have been converted into residential areas.
The clearing of forested areas, without due consideration of social and ecological aspects, has led to severe silting of the bay area from runoff carried to the sea during rain.