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GRAVELS: THE CHARM OF RAJA AMPAT ISLANDS AND THE THREAT OF THE MINING INDUSTRY

If around the world there were three books about Marine Biodiversity, the sea potential in Raja Ampat should be written in one book. (.statement made by Ex-Field Officer of Conservation International Papua, after research done in May to April 2001). Raja Ampat Islands is situated in a very strategic point, located between Pacific Ocean on the north and Arafura Ocean on the south; exactly on waters that line the provinces of Papua, Moluccas, and North Moluccas. At this location, rich marine biodiversity is abundant with tuna, grouper, napoleon, shells, purples, sea cucumber, and many other living creatures in the waters of the area. A statement from the Conservation International Papua shows that Raja Ampat Islands has an outstanding and spectacular richness of marine biodiversity. One of the researchers, Dr. John Veron, is an experienced shell expert from Australia. He told the press in Jayapura that the islands are the best shell areas in Indonesia. There are at least 450 kinds of shell identifications during only a two-week research. From the 450 kinds, seven are new finds for the world of shell science, and never have been found in any part of the world. In those two weeks, 950 kinds of shell fish were found; four of which are from new classes, like Eviota, Gobi, Apogon, and a shark spesies called Hemysyllium. "Finding shells during only a single visit has never happened before in my whole life. Never has there been shell research to find more than 450 kinds", says Veron delightedly. The same satisfaction is also revealed by Dr. Gerry Allen, "Unbelievable. Only this time have I succeeded to count 283 kinds of shellfish in a 80-minute dive. This is the highest record in my whole career". Moreover, Dr. Fred Wells from Australia also commented that within a short time, he found 600 kinds of mollusks of all sizes. Wells is very certain that there are many more kinds of mollusks in the area. All these scientific experts agree that Raja Ampet is the best marine area in Indonesia and that the area needs good management to avoid damage to this environment from pollution, bombing, and other sea damage. The experts have also stated that the islands should be proposed for a World Heritage Site. This has already been proposed and recommended to the Indonesian government and global community. The scientists also worry about the massive illegal cutting and fish bombing in the area of West Waigeo, in the Raja Ampat Islands. The people depend on the rich marine biodiversity found there. Nickel Deposit Apart form having richness in marine biodiversity, the area also has a large nickel deposit, export-quality forest wood, and several endemic animals: Kakatua Raja (King Cockatoo), Black-Headed Parrot, Penyu Belimbing, and Penyu Sisir. This nickel deposit is situated on Gag Island, a small arid island, inhabited with 600 people. Nickel mining activity has actually been going on since 1970, but because the Company has suffered recent losses, the operation was shut down. Gag Island is located about 150 km from Sorong, Papua, and is home to a nickel deposit of about 176 million tons. The deposit contains laterite nickel ore (about 1.5% of nickel) and Cobalt (about 0.5% of nickel). The deposit ranks third in the world in size, after Voisey's Bay, Canada, and Goro, New Caledonia. It is estimated that mineral activities will last for another 15 to 20 years, with an average production of 60,000 tons a year. Recently, the three mining companies involved in the Gag Island project include PT Aneka Tambang (25% share), BHP Australia (37.5%) and Falconbridge Canada (37.5% share). A feasibility study is being carried out to the end of 2002. Meanwhile, the land compensation issue remains a major issue for the people of North Waigeo and Saiwei. The Threat to Gag Island The kind of wealth contained in the islands has invited foreign mine investors to do business there. Recently, there have been many companies that use chemical substances, like potassium, cyanide, and dynamite to catch fish. No doubt this will damage the marine ecosystem and break the regeneration chain of specific biota within the area. The sea shells and marine ecosystems of and surrounding the Raja Ampat and Gag Islands have been seriously threatened. Furthermore, mining companies want to dump their tailings into the ocean. These tailings contain poisonous and dangerous (B3) substances that can ravage marine life and consumption of contaminated fish from these waters can harm human health. For the mining investors, exploitation in small islands like Raja Ampat has many advantages. Besides the economical benefits, there are at least two more reasons for them to open a mine in the area. First, geographically, Gag Island is in quite a remote location and hard for people to access. This would allow the company to easily exploit the area, without having to worry about protests from any local communities. Secondly, the Company can use such a location to promote the use of STD since its location is directly next to the sea. Another problem is the conflict between the newcomers and locals. Not to mention there are many more employees brought in from outside the area, like Manado, instead of within Papua. This situation poses a potential source of conflict. In utilizing the natural resources, the indigenous communities of Raja Ampat have applied customs from generation to generation. Not only do the customs contain ways to utilize the natural resources, but they also contain order of utilization zoning and the Right for Traditional Policy between one village community and another. These kinds of rules are applied and are very much a part of life in the Maya, Fiawat, and Beser communities. However, how long will these customary traditions survive if large-scale mining is permitted on the islands?

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