One lunchtime in Medan, Marjoko from the North Sumatra chapter of the Indonesian Environment Forum pointed to a flock of coastal birds now becoming “urban birds” on the city’s outskirts, Deli Serdang regency. “They shouldn’t be here. They’ve flown here only to find something to eat. Their mangrove habitat has been destroyed,” he said with deep concern.
Mangrove forests in Indonesia constitute 75 percent of Southeast Asia’s mangrove area, or 27 percent of that of the world’s. Indonesian mangroves, according to Marjoko, have the highest diversity in the world.
Mostly covering the coastal regions of Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua, Indonesia has around 9.36 million hectares (ha) of mangrove forests, but 48% is categorized as “moderately damaged” and 23% as “badly damaged”.
In North Sumatra, one of the provinces with the largest mangrove areas, 77 percent are reported to be severely damaged, and 13 percent moderately damaged, leaving only a paltry 36,000 ha (10 percent) in good condition.
The decline shows a real degradation of mangrove forests, progressing annually at the rate of around 200,000 ha, due to conversion into fish ponds and oil palm estates, the charcoal industry and illegal logging. Weak law enforcement and graft has strengthened corporate control over mangrove swamps, resulting in environmental damage and the destruction of coastal communities.