December 23, 2014

Bangka Island’s Coral Reefs in Urgent Need of Protection

\"\"By Gianfranco Rossi, Reef Check Italia Onlus

Pulau Bangka is an Indonesian island situated in the heart of the area with the world’s highest level of marine biodiversity, called “The Coral Triangle”. Coral reefs are the main source of livelihood for the local population of 2,700 people, both in terms of fishing and tourism. More than 600 species of corals have been recently recorded in this area, and countless are the number of organisms that take advantage of the ability of corals to build environments ideal for their growth. There is also a population of dugongs, associated with the seagrass beds and the delicate mangroves of the island. For scuba divers, Bangka offers an extremely diverse marine habitat. Breathtaking walls and a series of pinnacles bathed by strong currents, which enable the growth of an incredible variety of life forms, alternate with volcanic black sand, creating this favorite destination of underwater photographers from around the world.

It is for this reason that Reef Check Italia Onlus (RCI) has decided to focus its coral reef conservation efforts on this area since 2011. RCI, in partnership with the Coral Eye Research Outpost, has been monitoring the southern coast of the island. Experienced marine biologists, university students and enthusiastic scuba divers have taken part in the RCI expeditions. Together, they have shown that by combining efforts for a common interest, you can get results of a great scientific value. The only available monitoring data of the reefs in this area, in fact, come from this successful collaboration, and the data show conflicting results. On one hand the exceptional biodiversity of the area was confirmed, with coral cover in some areas higher than 60%. On the other hand, detrimental signs of human impact have also emerged in the past several years. This includes the loss of coral coverage, arising from destructive activities such as bomb and cyanide fishing, which has been the main reason for a decrease in grouper, snapper, and parrotfish. There is also a reduced presence of other reef organisms collected for the tropical marine aquarium trade.

Recently, a new threat, perhaps one of the worst, is the opening of a new mine. The mine’s toxic discharges into the sea can poison organisms, muddy the waters and reduce the resilience of the reefs, that is, their ability to recover independently after both natural and anthropogenic impacts. Considering the important role of Bangka as a connecting bridge between the Bunaken National Marine Park and the Lembeh Strait, damage to Bangka’s reefs would have unpredictable effects on all of the surrounding areas.\"\"

In order for the efforts of the RCI expedition not to be in vain, it is necessary that the people who are fighting for the preservation of this heritage won’t be left alone in this difficult task. Despite Jakarta authorities speaking out against the mine in Bangka, the local government has intervened by authorizing work on the mine and dismissing the regulation that small islands of Indonesia are to be preserved.

The permit grants the subsidiary of a Hong Kong company, Mikgro Metal Perdana (MMP), mineral rights to 2,000 hectares in a total area of 4,800 hectares that potentially contains ore. A large part of the local population is against the mine, with only a few people in favor of seeking immediate money. Such people don’t care about the environmental consequences for future generations who won’t have a place to live or food to eat as a result of the devastating and definitive damage to the reefs of the area.

For this reason, RCI is asking everyone to sign a petition to halt the mine excavation on the island of Bangka and to share this article via social networks using the hashtag #SaveBangkaIsland. This will be the only way to bring the voice of so many people to the authorities who have the responsibility to make the important decision to either: promote the preservation of this heritage which belongs to everyone or facilitate the interests of a few corrupt and unscrupulous people.

Please visit the Save Banka Island Facebook page and the petition to show your support.