The Jakarta Post
A man rowing in the vast Lake Toba, listed as a Special Economic Zone (KEK) and a priority destination. (Shutterstock/File)
As the government steps up efforts to boost tourism and promote Lake Toba as a prime tourist destination, the iconic North Sumatra lake continues to be marred by water pollution.
The finding was made recently by a team of researchers from the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, which is currently conducting a further study on how the environmental problem has affected the ecosystem in the lake.
In its initial study, the team found that lake’s water had been polluted by industrial waste, keramba (floating net cages for fish cultivation) and the flow of dirty water from nearby rivers.
“Our provisional results showed that the pollution covers about 30 percent of the lake,” research team coordinator Krismono told The Jakarta Post recently.
The heaviest pollution occurred near the industrial area, river estuary and areas where keramba are installed, Krismono said.
The research was carried out amid the recent deaths of thousands of tons of fish in kerambas in Humbang Hasundutan regency’s Baktiraja district, which is located in the southern part of the lake.
A total of five such incidents have occurred this year in several parts of the lake, including some in a different regency.
Water pollution, Krismono added, was a factor that contributed to the fish deaths, but kerambas being used to cultivate fish beyond their capacity is suspected to be the main cause of the incident.
“This is a warning nevertheless. This situation needs to be resolved immediately.”
A total of six individuals are involved in the team carrying out the research that began on Nov. 27. Slated to be completed on Dec. 6, the research is a follow-up to the previous study in August that aims to support the government’s plan to turn Lake Toba into a pollution-free international tourist attraction.
The study in August found that the main source of pollution in the lake was the water from 25 polluted rivers that flowed into it.
Recognized as the biggest volcanic lake in the world at 87 kilometers long and 27 km wide with the breathtaking natural beauty of Samosir Island at its center, Lake Toba spans seven regencies in the province, including Humbang Hasundutan, Toba Samosir, Karo and North Tapanuli.
Albert Sidabutar, the spokesman for Toba Samosir regency, which covers a vast area in the southeastern part of the lake, confirmed the lake had been polluted for a long time, with his regency being one of those contributing to the environmental damage.
Pollutants from his region, he added, came from the industrial area, and eventually flowed into the river running to the lake.
“We have been trying [to resolve the problem], but it is taking a long time as the solution is dependent on residents’ awareness,” Albert said.
The Toba Samosir administration, he added, had launched several campaigns and training events for residents in order to raise their awareness about the environment, and to foster a sense of belonging with the lake and a shared responsibility to keep it clean.
The picturesque Lake Toba, which some people envision as the “Monaco of Asia,” is among 10 new priority destinations in the national strategic tourism plan, which was launched recently by the government.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has recently inaugurated Silangit International Airport in North Tapanuli and Medan-Tebing Tinggi toll road to support the plan for the 10 new destinations, which have also been dubbed the new Balis.
Before gaining its spot in the priority list, the image of Lake Toba had declined in recent years.