That afternoon several women gathered on the coast of Kampung Waleh, Weda Bay, Halmahera Island. With them, they brought baskets full of shells from the mangroves not far from the settlement. They have cleaned these mangrove clams from their shells, washed with sea water. “The sea water on this beach now is no longer the same as in the previous time. It used to be clear, but now it has been darkened,” said one of the women.
For the past three years, the color of sea water along the coastal village has turned brownish. The river which flows into the coastal village has caused the thick mud deposits and in turn changed the color of the sea water. Such sludge is a waste product of the sediment basin managed by PT Bakti Pertiwi Nusantara (BPN), a nickel mining company, which exploits forest areas in the upper reaches of the river.
The pollution has made the people suffer. “The company has made this happen to our village,” said the local resident. It was later reported that the mining company had been subject to sanctions. Despite the sanction, it is still a long road for the environmental restoration to take place.
Two fisherwomen in Weda Bay, Central Halmahera. Weda Bay is a development area of a nickel mining industry in North Maluku.
Residents are washing shells using seawater on the beach of Waleh Village, Central Halmahera. Unfortunately the beach has been polluted with mud from the mining activities of PT. Bakti Pertiwi Nusantara (BPN).
Residents' activities in Waleh Village, Central Halmahera.
The area of Weda Bay is now known as a nickel industry development area, one of the national strategic programs of the current regime. Indonesian Weda Bay Industrial Park (or IWIP) is a company with a 5,000 hectares area managing dozens of nickel ore processing and refining factory infrastructure. It has just been established in 2018, but during the short period the company has managed a smooth business with a number of mining companies that have been operating long before within the area.
Large-scale land clearing for mining has caused the area to lose its forest cover, to which it results in deteriorating environmental conditions. Major floods are frequent, and the degradation of living space has ever worsened. Apart from Weda Bay, similar conditions also occurred in Buli Bay, East Halmahera Regency, and Obi Island in South Halmahera. These three regions are the epicenter of the nickel industry in North Maluku Province.
The workers at PT. IWIP (Indonesia Weda Bay Industrial Park) came home from work crowded the streets in Lelilef Village. It is currently estimated that more than 30,000 employees are working on the IWIP project.
Residents doing their activities behind their house facing the sea in Lelilef Village, Teluk Weda, Central Halmahera. Lelilef Village is directly adjacent to the location of PT. IWIP (Indonesian Weda Bay Industrial Park).
North Maluku is in the Wallace Line area, the biogeographical area of the Maluku Islands, Sulawesi, and Nusa Tenggara Islands, which has high biodiversity. This area is home to 10,000 plant species, 15% of which are endemic, as well as 126 mammals, 99 reptiles, and 58 amphibians, all of which are also endemic. The Wallacea area is known as a place where small islands gather. Its geographical area is situated between oceans and seas, making this area a paradise for marine biodiversity known as the Coral Triangle.
However, biodiversity is under threat due to the massive mining industry. Data from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources shows 106 active Mining Business Permits (or IUP, Ijin Usaha Tambang) that control approximately 612 thousand hectares of North Maluku, including the small islands. Jaringan Advokasi Tambang (JATAM) or The Mining Advocacy Network Organization stated that the islands in Indonesia continue to be friendly territories for extractive industries—the ones that undermine environmental safety through their actions that violate human rights. The small islands, especially in eastern parts of Indonesia, have witnessed the ferocity of the extractive industry. They note that there are 55 islands controlled by the mining companies. From that number, 29 islands are controlled by nickel mines.
Kawasi Village, Obi Island, North Maluku, is surrounded by the nickel mining industry. Rivers and seawater in Kawasi have been polluted by mine sludge. The company offered to relocate but was rejected by the community.
On Obi Island, the fishing village of Kawasi is situated in the middle of the development of Harita Group’s nickel industrial area. Dozens of nickel ore processing plant infrastructures are developed in the hilly region surrounding the village. Meanwhile, the surrounding forest area has been logged and mined.
Small rivers, swamps, and waters in Kawasi are red-brown mixed with mud. An investigative report published in The Guardian recently reported that the only source of clean water consumed by Kawasi residents was contaminated with hexavalent chromium (Cr6+). It is said to cause liver damage and stomach cancer. Laboratory test results show contamination has exceeded the set threshold. The investigation report also revealed that a toddler had a respiratory infection due to the bad air conditions around the area.
The condition of the sea waters on Obi Island is polluted due to the mining industry.
The canal made by the mining company to drain sludge waste in Kawasi, Obi Island, North Maluku.
The nickel industry on Obi Island is the first to produce and export electric vehicle battery raw materials in Indonesia. Nickel, as a raw material for electric batteries, is plentiful in this country—it has a deposit of as much as 52% of world reserves, and such wealth resources spread in Central Sulawesi, South Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, and North Maluku. Electric vehicles are now a world trend since the products are believed to be environmentally friendly vehicles, as they can reduce carbon emissions and climate change. Unfortunately, this claim is contrary to the conditions of the area where the raw materials are mined. Local people who live in the vicinity must endure the long-suffering.
Pipes for clean water that are flown to residents' homes pass through a swamp polluted by mining mud in Kawasi, Obi Island.
A resident crosses a swamp that has been polluted by mine sludge in Kawasi, Obi Island, North Maluku.
In mid-2021, a number of anchovy fishermen in Buli Bay, East Halmahera, complained about the passage of ships carrying nickel mining products. One of the fishermen, Ronaldo Riung (49), said that the condition of the waters around was continuously polluted by ore (the mining soil) which fell into the sea from transport ships.
Ronaldo lives on Belemsi Island, one of a group of small islands in Buli Bay. This island is a neighbor to Pakal Island and Gee Island, the mining locations of PT. Aneka Tambang (Antam). Antam started mining on Pakal Island in 2010 after previously dredging up Gee Island since 1997. The traffic of ships transporting mining products, said Ronaldo, had a huge impact on fishermen’s activities with a bagan fishing gear/boat. “Indeed, we feel the impact. Last week, some parts of our bagan were polluted with the dirty oil disposal,” he said.
Gee Island in East Halmahera was damaged by mining by a subsidiary of PT. ANTAM.
Activities of anchovy fishermen on Belemsili Island, East Halmahera. They complained about the activity of large vessels carrying nickel in their fishing area. The surrounding islands are mined by PT. ANTAM
The condition of one of the islands in East Halmahera after being mined.
About nine miles to the west, Moronopo Hill on the mainland of Halmahera Island has also been mined, causing the coast to be polluted with silt. The check dam owned by the company has repeatedly damaged, causing the dam failure, with the uncontrolled release of mud to flow into rivers and seashores, disrupting mangrove and aquatic ecosystems. The local Environmental Agency noted that the area of the mud deposits is about four hectares.
The local fishermen disclosed that their catch continues to decline. “In the past, from 1995 to early 2000s, we could get around 1,500 kgs dried anchovies. In the last five years, all we can get is as much as 300 kgs a month,” he complained.
The sea waters in Moronopo Bay, East Halmahera, are polluted by mud due to the mining activities of PT. ANTAM.
A study “Dampak Pertambangan Nikel Terhadap Daerah Penangkapan Ikan di Perairan Kabupaten Halmahera Timur” or “The Impact of Nickel Mining on Fishing Areas in the Waters of East Halmahera Regency” states that nickel mining has a major impact on decreasing water quality as well as the number of fish obtained, especially for bagan fishing gear. The fishermen asked the government and companies to ensure the sustainability of the fishing industry.
“They (the mining industry) work on the land, while we are working in the sea. As we don’t pollute the land, they should do all the same, not to pollute the sea, so that we in the sea can survive with our work here too,” he said.
Christina, 56 years old, a farmer in Gemaf Village, whose plantation is adjacent to PT. IWIP. Her plantation is affected by mining industry activities. Until now, Christina has defended her plantation because she feels that the compensation money is too cheap, not worth the yield from her plantation.
Residents process sago on the river bank in Waleh Village, Central Halmahera, North Maluku. They complain about the condition of their river which is now sedimented with mud due to mining activities in the rivers upstream.
In the afternoon, for their spare time, a number of residents gathered at the Pier of Lelilef Village, Weda Bay, Central Halmahera.
Translator: Dewi Kharisma Michellia
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