The future of Papua's biodiversity is alarming
Freddy Pattiselanno and Agustina YS Arobaya
The Jakarta Post
Papua (both Papua and West Papua provinces) is a complex piece of the planet, partly because of its convoluted tectonic history that forms mountainous areas, prominent lakes, swamps and mangroves where Indonesia's largest mangrove ecosystem is nestled at the head of Bintuni Bay.
The north-western part of Papua is also part of the Coral Triangle Marine Protected Area, containing the world's greatest diversity of coral-reef fish, with more than 1,650 species in eastern Indonesia alone. Papua's abundant coastline is magnificent, placed together with more than 1,000 fringing islands like Raja Ampat, Biak, Supiori, Yapen and the satellite islands of Cenderawasih Bay, which also contribute significantly to Papua's astonishing features.
It is currently considered an area of global priority for biodiversity conservation because, in part, of the species-rich forest environment of Australopapuan fauna, as well as of many uniquely New Guinean species.
Papua has huge reserves of natural resources in the mining and oil and gas sectors and continues to retain some 80 percent forest cover, including large reserves of commercially valuable lowland rainforest.
These all significantly contributed to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the provinces.
Despite its socially rich environment, Papua and West Papua are among the provinces with the highest level of poverty in the country. A report by the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) said that until March 2013, West Papua was among the eight provinces with the highest poverty rate (26.67 percent) ' second after neighbouring Papua (31.13 percent).
Creation of new regencies has chopped the whole forest land into pieces. Consequently, previously undisturbed or pristine forests have been converted into raw materials for building new infrastructure and facilities in support of the development program.
Further to reaching targets set for regional own-source revenue (PAD), other purposes are competing for the use of land, including for extractive industries such mining and logging and for booming commercial plantations like for the palm oil industry.
Poverty often pushes people to overexploit forest resources to improve their livelihoods. That is why governments depend on extractive industries such as mining and logging to generate revenues. From a socioeconomic perspective, 'almost-developed' nations face rapid economic development and intense natural-resource exploitation that drive an economic impetus for the expansion of roads, infrastructure and extractive industries.
Mining is the most profitable but unsustainable economic sector because from 50 to 60 percent of the total GDP of the provinces is derived from mining.
At present, we have two mining industries: PT Freeport Indonesia and the largest natural gas project, Tangguh Liquefied Natural Gas, which is positioned to extract the natural resources from fields in both Timika and the Bintuni Bay area for export.
This is not including the MIFEE (Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate) that planned to occupy the frontier land in the south of Papua, which is seen as underutilized, to boost food production and stimulate economic growth.
Future landscape changes may also threaten the remaining tropical forests and their inhabitants. New road connections stretching a total of 2,700 kilometers would possibly also split many pristine forests in Papua.
It is clear that the largest single threat to biological diversity globally is the outright destruction of habitat, along with habitat alteration and fragmentation of large habitat into smaller patches.
First, poorly planned land conversions are considered a major contributor to habitat fragmentation because they divide large landscapes into smaller patches and convert the interior habitat into a fringe habitat.
Second, human development brings with it an increase in the number of roads and other infrastructure to fulfill human needs, but this escalation has costly implications for nature.
Regrettably, we only consider the economic potential of sacrificing forest land for mining, logging and plantations that produce palm oil, pulp and paper and other goods alone without paying any further concern to the cost that may take place.
The conversion of massive forests and habitats was blamed for some plants and animals appearing to have become endangered or possibly extinct. Most importantly though, this is not just how we appreciate a biodiversity richness.
The speedy forest conversion rate and the scale of plans for further conversion for industry may decrease ecological services crucial to human survival. The global concern of forest conversion is because of the importance of forest to climate change mitigation.
Forests have also long been considered a mother for the native Papuans. Thus, the loss of forests will lead to disenfranchisement of ethnic Papuans from their traditional landscapes and lifestyles. The short-term economic gains from this are obvious, but the long-term losses less so.
Therefore, it is currently crucial to support the involvement of local governments and people as well as indigenous communities in biodiversity conservation programs. With a decentralized government system in place, regional governments hold relatively more power and authority to manage and control their natural resources.
Good government planning in the light of Special Autonomy Law No. 21/2001, which reflects the supremacy of Papuan law, should consider both short- and long-term benefits of particular decisions for the future of Papua's biodiversity.
Options or incentives provided to help local governments develop their economies in sustainable ways are, thus, imperative to keep the remaining forests intact. Such incentives ' for forest protection and management ' have to be particularly significant so that they are sufficient to counter the economic drivers of deforestation, which include logging and plantation development.
More importantly, these incentives have to reach local and indigenous communities, who are considered the users and providers of ecosystem services.
Without their support and involvement, any initiatives may yield results but will not be sustainable.
Furthermore, the implementation of relevant regulations and strengthened law enforcement is needed to encourage better practices for extractive industries such as logging, mining and modern plantations.
Agustina Y.S. Arobaya is a lecturer at the School of Forestry and Freddy Pattiselanno is a lecturer at the School of Animal Science, Fishery and Marine Sciences at the Papua State University (UNIPA) in Manokwari, West Papua.
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