AFP June 16
Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia was Sunday shrouded with haze from forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra causing “unhealthy” levels of pollution in six areas.
Haze is an annual problem during the monsoon season from May to September as winds blow the smoke across the Malacca Strait to Malaysia.
Environment Department director general Halimah Hassan said they had detected 46 hotspots in Sumatra via satellite.
The Air Pollutant Index (API) showed unhealthy levels of between 101 and 129 in six areas on Sunday morning, including two places in Malacca state along with Port Dickson and the country’s largest port, Port Klang.
In the capital Kuala Lumpur the skies were hazy with air pollution readings at 92, just below the unhealthy threshold.
A level of 101-200 is considered unhealthy, while 51-100 is moderate.
Halimah in a statement late Saturday attributed the haze to the westerly monsoon season during which winds blow the smoke towards Malaysia.
Haze, mostly caused by fires in Indonesia, builds up during the dry season, affecting tourism and contributing to health problems across the region.
Indonesia’s government has outlawed land-clearing by fire but weak law enforcement means the ban is largely ignored.
The haze hit its worst level in 1997-1998, costing the Southeast Asian region an estimated $9 billion by disrupting air travel and other business activities.
By Birchard Kellogg mongabay.com 6/10
In a chilly rain on Sunday, in a town just a few kilometers beyond the edge of a protected Sumatran rainforest, a young orangutan sat perched on a piece of plywood and grabbed the metal wires of his tiny cage.
He has sat in that cage for six months and, like more than a dozen other species on display in this “zoo” in the town of Kandang in Aceh, he has a price tag.
This packed assembly is an acknowledged front for illegal trafficking in wildlife.
“It’s a zoo, but you can buy,” said the wife of the property’s owner. The critically endangered orangutan? $200. A leopard cat? $25-$50.
A steady rotation is evident. In March, a staff member of a Sumatran conservation organization working to fight the trade witnessed a critically endangered baby sun bear on the property. About a week later, two other bears sat caged, according to the same eyewitness. None are there now.
Primates appear to be frequently traded, or simply die from lack of care. Eight months ago, three other orangutans were caged here, witnesses said, along with a gibbon that has since died. One orangutan has disappeared, likely sold. When a flood hit on May 10, locals say one escaped and another drowned.
Click here to read the rest of the story and see more images
By Dave Armstrong earthtimes.org June 5
The critically-endangered Sumatran tiger, Panthera tigris sumatrae, is one of several imuch-loved mammals due to become extinct as their habitat is destroyed, even within their own reserves. Illegal logging, pam oil plantations and mining surround them. 5 years ago, there were a maximum of 679 left © Shutterstock
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia acted 2 years ago to outlaw logging permits for virgin rainforest throughout the extensive archipelago of Indonesia. Corruption and various loopholes have enabled a wide disregard for the government’s action. Palm oil is the tree of choice for industrial giants and smaller operators alike in the previously large forests of Indonesia. Soap and biscuits have replaced the biodiverse inhabitants of pure jungle.
Pulp, paper and tissue companies have also joined mining groups in this devastation of natural vegetation types, even in swamps and deep jungle. Even the obvious and characterful orang utan has been driven from its home and then killed, but invertebrates and small vertebrates have even less chance of survival when many of them are undescribed and unseen. Many more new species are found every year. All of this forest loss makes Indonesia the biggest palm oil producer and the third biggest carbon dioxide emitter. That is surprising when you consider the enormous industry of China and the US, above them in this sad league table.
Permits given out before the moratorium 2 years ago, or for secondary forest, are of course perfectly valid. The areas now being destroyed are very large- the size of a small country – in Aceh Province, for example. What one country has done to help is provide incentive to slow this forest loss. Norway has pledged $1 billion. according to Kumi Nadoo, the Greenpeace international executive director. Norway’s offer was conducted through the UN as part of their climate change commitments. The president’s response was the moratorium and last month the ban was continued for another 2 year span. Hopefully the slowdown in deforestation might bring Indonesia more cash from their Norwegian sponsors.
The chances are, however, that the massive “colonisation” of Indonesia by the multinational companies who run these deforesting industries will cause no slowdown in forest loss at all. Instead, the profit motive and the incredible lack of human rights afforded to indigenous people lost these particular groups 10 million hectares (24.7 million acres) over 10 years. Jakarta politics is rife with land-grabs and transmigration policies (to facilitate “growth”), nowadays largely in distant Papua and Sulawesi. The dispossessed can then be sent to prison for talking about the situation. “Now you can be sent there for talking about corporations,” says Abetnego Tarigan, director of Friends of the Earth Indonesia in Jakarta.
The tigers, the rhinos, the orang utans and the great trees that used to reign here have largely disappeared. The fabulous pieces of tiger habitat for those two above have gone: someone forgot to leave them the trees they need.
AP/ June 5, 2013, 7:51 AM Indonesia critically endangered Sumatran elephants poisoned, shot, WWF says
JAKARTA, Indonesia Poisoning or shooting killed many of the 129 critically endangered elephants that have died on Indonesia’s Sumatra island in less than a decade, highlighting weak enforcement of laws against poaching, an environmental group says.
WWF Indonesia said killings of Sumatran elephants are on the rise, with 29 either shot or poisoned last year, including 14 in Aceh province. The group said Tuesday that no one has been convicted or jailed in the deaths that were counted in Riau province since 2004.
The report came three days after two dead Sumatran elephants were found near a paper plantation in Riau, allegedly poisoned by poachers. Another elephant was killed last month near Tesso Nilo national park and its tusks were hacked off. An autopsy found a plastic detergent wrapper in its belly filled with poison.
The group said 59 percent of the dead elephants were definitely poisoned, 13 percent were suspected to have been poisoned, and 5 percent were killed by gunshots. Others died from illness or other causes, or the reason for their death was unknown.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the animals as “critically endangered” after their numbers dropped to between 2,400 and 2,800 from an estimated 5,000 in 1985. Environmentalists say the elephants could be extinct within three decades unless they are protected.
The decline is largely due to destruction of their habitat. Forests across Sumatra are being logged for timber, palm oil, and pulp and paper.
Sumatra has some of the most significant populations of Asian elephants outside of India and Sri Lanka and is also home to tigers, orangutans and rhinos.
“Effective action on the ground should be taken immediately to protect Sumatran elephants from extinction, especially in Riau,” the report said. There are about 300 elephants left in Riau, which is part of Sumatra island.
Achmad Saeroji, head of the government conservation agency in Riau, denied the allegation of lax law enforcement, saying at least eight cases have been handled by authorities recently.
“We always investigate every case of elephants found dead,” he said. “But it is hard to capture the perpetrators, either because of late reports or the fear of people to report the poachers, who work in a network.”
Indonesia’s elephants sometimes venture into populated areas searching for food. They destroy crops or attack humans, making them unpopular with villagers. Some are shot or poisoned with cyanide-laced fruit, while others are killed by poachers for their ivory.
Please donate to bring a world-class photographer to Aceh to document threats to critically endangered species.
It has been widely reported in the media that the current Aceh administration is planning to open huge amounts of currently protected forest for commercial exploitation. Leading scientist are warning that opening these protected forest will increase natural disasters (ie. Landslide and flooding), human wildlife conflict with community and paved the way to extinction of Sumatra’s megafauna (Critically endangered Sumatran Rhino, Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Orangutan and Sumatran Elephant).
We are writing to request Paul to join our communications team for the duration of 7-10 days to photograph and profile the activities currently taking place undocumented in Aceh. Key aspects would be seeking to capture human-wildlife conflict and “natural disaster” that are currently taking place. The key proposed outcome of Paul’s trip to Aceh is to secure the currently missing images that can send the story of this campaign further than it is currently reaching.
Obviously, capturing the images that portray this story are exceptionally difficult and largely based upon being at the right place at the right time. This is where the working relationship between Paul, us, and our local partners provide the highest likelihood of success. Prior to Paul’s arrival, two weeks of field survey will be conducted by localized teams of forest rangers, working with local community to indicate the locations where these powerful images which will accelerate the campaign can be captured.
Unfortunately, our organization is not currently in the financial position to fund the anticipated US$ 6,500 cost to bring Paul to the field to photograph what is taking place. However it is viewed as essential for the broader campaign to protect and restore Aceh threatened forest that Paul is able to join the team at this critical time. As of right now, we have field reports of broad scale flooding and landslide along the entire west coast of Aceh and numerous human wildlife conflict taking place in central highland and east coast. The sooner Paul can get here to capture the disaster and conflict the better. Paul’s images, as we have seen in the past internationalize local issues and this is essential for the work we are currently undertaking right now.
This project is anticipated to be utilized to raised the profile of the campaign to protect and restore Aceh threatened forest, securing the last habitat where Rhinos, Elephants, Tigers and Orangutans still live in one place. We thank you in advance for your generous support.
To donate, please go to this LINK
Bangkok Post June 3
A copy billion deal to save Indonesia’s rainforests has slowed a “tidal wave” of logging destruction, Greenpeace’s global chief said Monday, but he warned much more needed to be done.
While many environmentalists have sharply criticised Indonesian efforts to end rampant logging across some of the planet’s most vital forests, Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said there was reason to hope. Click here to read more
mongabay.com 6/3 Full article with graphics, photos and video here.
In a patch of rainforest in northern Sumatra, a 28-year-old in a jeans and tall rubber boots snubs out out his cigarette and pulls a headlamp over his short black hair. Standing under a tarp, he flicks the light on and leans over the entrance of a narrow shaft lined with wooden planks that he and other miners cut from trees that once stood here. He gives a sharp tug on a rope that dangles 100 meters, plateauing in sections, and slides down. For hours, the man, Sarial, will use a pick to scrape away and bag rocks that are hauled to the surface by another miner, using a wooden wheel.
Inside this ore, being dug up daily in the Ulu Masen “protected forest,” is gold.
Metal drums spin loudly nearby, each crushing about 10 pounds of rocks. What the miners have poured into each drum has long been banned for such use in the developing world: mercury. Two teaspoons of the silver, metallic substance, bought from Medan, were put into each drum. The amalgam will be collected in three hours and the spent “tailings” waste will dumped into terraced pools and left to dry.
Bukari, a 40-year-old local with a thick build, shrugs when asked if he fears the mercury with harm him. “One day, maybe. But it’s still worth it.”
The nearby community of Gampong claims it didn’t realize the forests contained gold until a private mining company, PT Woyla Aceh Minerals – one of at least 13 with concessions here – started exploratory drilling about a decade ago. When it halted operations several years ago, some 3,000 miners moved in. They are mostly local and were trained by a technician from Java.
“We’re happy the company left,” said Bukari. With good quality gold here, the roughly 200 men collectively earn about 3 billion rupiah ($300,000) a month.
“Now all of a sudden, men have motorbikes and can build a house,” M. Sabi, a community organizer, said. “But the forest is being destroyed.”
The clear-cutting of the rainforest by miners and loggers has driven some of its remaining elephants onto roads and crops, and conflict with farmers is on the rise. One elephant died last week after being snared on a wire.
When it rains, the toxic mine tailings will find their way down the steep slopes into a river as runoff. But the river passes through a another community, “so they don’t think about it,” Pak Sulaiman, a local man, said.
A National Problem
Across Indonesia and elsewhere in the third world, small-scale mining has spiked in the last decade, rising in tandem with the price of gold. Experts say there now some 250,000 miners here – about 1 million if peripheral workers are included, on nearly every island in the archipelago. By some estimates, they collectively produce about 60 tons of gold each year, compared with official Indonesian exports of 100 tons a year.
The use of mercury in this unregulated mining here is illegal. Yet parts of Indonesia now have the highest levels of mercury contamination on earth: up to 1000 milligrams per kilogram in the soil, according to Chris Anderson, a scientist working to mitigate the problem.
In Sumbawa in southern Indonesia, grinding drums are visible at “on every road stop,” he said. And on Buru Island, in the famed spice islands, he describes “a gold rush.”
East of Bali, on quiet, rural Lombok, four towering vats used in a “second-phase” operation are plainly visible just off a road leading to a new eco resort. Bags of slurry from grinding machines are brought here and poured into the vats and mixed with cyanide and left to leach for 48 hours. Residual is recovered with activated carbon. But the soluble mercury is not absorbed well and is discharged with tailings. A large pond of this red-brown waste sits just 10 feet from a canal that empties into a coral reef.
“This is a mercury-cyanide bomb,” said Marcello Veiga, who was a small-scale mining consultant for the United Nations for 30 years, and examined the site with this reporter. “It’s much more toxic than mercury alone for fish. The cyanide depletes oxygen, so fish die from a lack of it. It’s a tragedy.”
Rice collected by Anderson and several colleagues at a tailings pond here and one in Sumbawa showed methyl mercury concentrations greater than 100 parts per billion, five times above the legal limit in China. But he stresses there is no safe level in rice or other crops.
In Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, men dislodge about 100 tons of sand a day to deliver gold, blasting the land with pressure hoses until it becomes a slurry. Then they pump the mixture over the carpeted sluice, exposing about 10 tons of ore an hour, said Sumali Agriwal, technical director of Yayasan Tambuhak Sinta, a development organization. They wash this concentrate in a bucket mixture with mercury to catch as much gold as possible. About 20 grams of mercury are lost each time, less than in hard-rock mining, but more land is destroyed.
Large swaths of rainforests that once sheltered orangutans, he said, are now a ‘moonscape,’ he said. “This can’t ever be reforested.”
Some thirty gold shops in Kalimantan have been burning gold amalgam for more than a decade, sending mercury vapors into the atmosphere.
The Indonesian government recently set up a task force to examine small-scale mining, which it recognizes is a growing problem, said Abdul Harris, a specialist with the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), a government-affiliated research institute.
But so far no agency has taken action to address the issue or is even monitoring contamination. He notes the government will soon have to. Indonesia has committed to eliminate the use of mercury in mining by 2018.
For now, Harris said it is waiting for parliament to pass a law that will force individual miners or small groups to apply for local permits. The miners, Harris said, “need to be integrated into the economy.”
If the law passes, local officials will have to look after the environment, “and they are going to be reluctant,” Harris said.
One reason? Money. Industry experts say some regents, known as “bupati,” collect substantial side payments from both private mining companies and small-scale miners.
The national government, meanwhile, is also pushing to more fully exploit Indonesia’s mineral wealth.
Less Water, Contamination Concerns
Sumatra is a key part of this strategy. Hong-Kong based G-Resources has just begun gold mining production within a 1,640 square-kilometer concession in the the Batang Toru, where critically endangered orangutans and dozens of other threatened species are found.
To the south, Sihayo Gold’s Indonesian subsidiary, PT Sorikmas, has a large mining concession that is carved into Batang Gadis National Park. The local community has accused it of draining the water table, leaving less water to irrigate its rice fields. The river through Banya Pamyabungan, or “mine city,” is down about 4 meters.
After Sorikmas laid off workers last July, hundreds of protesters burned some of its buildings. Those workers had maps of where gold was located and now some 2,000 miners and rock haulers have taken over the high hills in a corner of its concession.
Sorikmas did not address whether it has contributed to scarcer water through clear-cutting and drilling in exploration sites. In a statement, it said it does not condone the illegal mining activity inside the concession and noted its workforce varies from time to time “subject to the field activities that we are engaged in.”
With clear-cutting and erosion at the mountaintop sites shared by the miners and the company, storms in February triggered flooding and landslides. A couple months ago, several miners died after their 50-meter-deep hole collapsed on top of them. Locals say about 50 have died so far.
The ore they mine is being processed at about 100 smelter sites scattered around a nearby town. After sifting the amalgam in buckets, men here pour mercury-laden tailings into small ditches that feed its waterways.
“Many locals think if they see a snail or fish alive, the water is fine,” said Kusandi Oldani, a director for Walhi, the Indonesian chapter of Friends of the Earth. Men in a nearby village say most there believe the fish is poisoned and haven’t eaten it for about five years. There are also fewer fish and shrimp to eat.
“I miss cooking fish,” said Noni Hairani, an older woman. “We’re eating more chicken, if we can buy it.”
In a nearby river, naked children splashed. In these rivers, the mercury mixes with bacteria and becomes methylmercury, which is far more toxic and accumulates up the food chain. Experts say villagers who consume fish here, especially children, will be at risk of learning disabilities to having very diminished mental capacity. Mercury can also cause kidney problems, arthritis, miscarriages, respiratory failure and even death.
Monitoring the health of the miners themselves is difficult because many are migrants, said Rini Sulaiman, an advisory board member of Yayasan Tambuhak Sinta. “They may not be around to count when they die.” A 2003 study by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization of a mining community in Kalimantan found mercury intoxication among men working in smelters. Women there had high levels of mercury in breast milk.
“They will die by the thousands,” said Viega, who studied sites in Indonesia for five years.
For weeks, most of the mining at hilltops here has been halted under a temporary agreement between Sihayo and local miners. At a village coffee shop, an older man named Baginda said that before thousands of men started digging in the hills, he would see sun bears, deer and even tigers cross his land. “I miss the animals,” he said. “When work starts again, the ones left will flee or disappear.”
On one recent day at dusk, smoke drifted from just one tarp-covered camp high on a ridge. Here, at 7,000 feet, the air was cool and the only sound for several minutes was the loud squawk of hornbills. A dozen bats darted under the canopy and, beyond the torn up river bed, patches of thick forest still covered the surrounding slopes. And in that stillness, just two days prior, a lone tiger crossed the same muddy path.