EXPERT OPINION: Michael Ishak



Posted on 07 October 2013  | 

Can you tell us about the Save Small Island Bangka North Sulawesi Initiative and your role in this initiative?

I am a scuba diving instructor and have long been working in the recreational scuba diving industry on the island and its surrounding areas. I am also a passionate photographer and filmmaker.

I am very concerned about what’s happening in the island and how it’s affecting the communities, whose lives are being disrupted in regard to the pending destruction of our pristine marine treasures.

There’s an ongoing Indonesian campaign to save Small Island Bangka. What is it all about?

We currently have a petition on change.org which is mainly meant as a national Indonesian campaign and directed to an Indonesian audience. Its brand ambassador is well-known and popular local band vocalist Kaka Slank. We launched this petition to raise awareness among a large Indonesian audience on the critical issues facing Bangka Island and gain national attention.

The petition asks the national government and relevant agencies to stop the entry of mining activities in Small Island Bangka, which is located in one of the most bio-diverse marine areas in the North Sulawesi Province of Indonesia. Such mining activities will destroy the fragile and valuable marine resources of this area, on which many people depend for food and livelihood.

The petition’s main addressees are the North Minahasa Regency Head Sompie Singal who issued the mining exploration license which has been cancelled by law by an Indonesian High Court and the Governor of North Sulawesi Province, Sarundajang who once praised himself Indonesia’s first green governor and runs for presidential elections in 2014.

This national petition is being supported by Friends of the Earth Indonesia (Walhi), Greenpeace Indonesia, change.org, LMND (National Students League for Democracy), and regional NGOs like Tunas Hijau (Green Sprout).

To sign the petition, please visit: http://www.change.org/id/petisi/gub-sarundajang2014-bupati-sompie-singal-tolak-tambang-di-pulau-kecil-selamatkan-pulau-bangka-sulut

For more information, please visit our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/groups/SaveBangkaIsland

Can you expound on the immediate threats facing Bangka Island?

Bangka Island, with a total area of just 4,778.24 hectares, has been designated by the North Sulawesi government to become an island for iron ore mining and related metals, which will cover as much as 2,000 hectares—almost half of its total area.

Such mining activities will endanger protected wildlife on land as well as in the sea. These unsustainable activities will heavily compromise the health of coral reefs, mangroves, and will likewise affect the cross waters between Bunaken Marine National Park and Lembeh Strait.

What has been the feeling on the ground by the local people and communities?

There has been a lot of resistance to these proposed mining activities by the traditional fishing communities who have lived in this area for generations, as well as by the local dive tourism industry.

Several meetings have been arranged by the mining company and local government agencies, but all these have been met with strong opposition by the local people, and have even resulted in violence in some cases. The islanders’ former peaceful lives are completely disrupted.

The message however remains clear: the local people are opposed to these mining plans and they need a strong voice to carry their cause.

What are the next steps of the campaign? Any plans to take this to the international level?

Soon, we are planning to launch another petition on the international level, which will be directed to the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The goal is to give pressure from the international community and urge the government to stick to its past commitments such as those made at the World Ocean Conference in Manado in 2009.

As host and founding member of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security (CTI-CFF), the Indonesian government has a responsibility to fulfill its commitments to protect our ocean’s valuable resources.

The goal is to convince the President that his word on international treaties should be honored and this includes not destroying Bangka Island, which interestingly, is only 34 kilometers away from the Regional Secretariat of the CTI-CFF. This even becomes more relevant since Indonesia is again planning to host the World Coral Reef Conference in Manado in 2014.

On a larger scale, we hope to make "Saving Bangka" a showcase for saving many more small islands throughout Indonesia from being sold off to mining companies, violating Indonesian law and international commitments the country has signed. The sale of Indonesian small islands for individual profit must be stopped by all means.

Why is Bangka Island so important and why do we need to protect it?

Bangka Island possesses beautiful white sandy beaches, colorful coral reefs, diverse dive sites, and a rich flora and fauna on land including sea eagles, nocturnal primate tarsius spectrum, and marsupial bear cuscus—all on the IUCN red list.

Its forest and mangroves are protected by law. The rich marine environment of the island hosts various unique creatures like the sea mammal dugong, whale sharks, and also dolphins.

The mangrove areas of the island help keep the stability of marine and terrestrial life and help prevent global warming, while at the same time, help secure future sources of marine food.

If the mining plans for Bangka Island will go ahead, this will not only threaten local communities who live on the island, but also the marine life found in this area.

Bangka Island is part of the marine tourism industry of North Sulawesi—a source of income and livelihood to thousands of people. Mining will bring detrimental effects on the economy and sustainable growth.
World-renowned dive sites like Bunaken National Marine Park and Lembeh Strait will also be affected. In the long term, North Sulawesi may vanish from the marine tourism map.
Michael Ishak
© Michael Ishak Enlarge

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