Environmental problems in Indonesia

Burning the rainforest to clear land for oil palm tree (Elaesis guineensis) plantations near the Bukit Tigapuluh Nature Reserve, Sumatra, Indonesia.

Getting to the roots of the problems

On the surface, Indonesia’s environmental problems – deforestation, wildlife trade, pollution, overfishing etc – and vanishing natural resources appear to be issues of poverty, population pressure and poor governance.
In reality, the situation is more complex.

Across the world, a growing appetite for Indonesia’s fish, oil palm, timber, wood pulp, gold, oil and gas resources are pressing the country to keep on exporting its natural heritage in the form of oils, logs, fish fillets and photocopy paper.

The problem is that a lot of these activities are taking place illegally and/or are carried out in an unsustainable way.

So what environmental problems is Indonesia facing?
	© WWF
What is WWF doing about the problems?


During 2000 and 2005, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that Indonesia lost a massive 1,87 million ha of forest every year.1 That’s 9,36 million ha over a 5-year period – an area the size of Portugal.

When a forest area of that size is lost, this carries a range of serious impacts, including (among many other):
  • habitat loss for endangered species such as the Sumatran rhino and orangutans
  • loss of livelihoods for forest people who are robbed of their timber resources and
  • loss of revenue for local and central governments.
What explains Indonesia's phenomenal rate of forest loss?
One cause is global demand for wood pulp and palm oil, and the resulting clearance of forests for plantations. Palm oil is now considered a major source of income for Indonesia and for more than 3.5 million people working in this sub-sector.

But this expansion comes at a heavy price. Where plantations are created in areas of high conservation value forests (HCVF), this has led to the complete loss of forest ecological functions and socioeconomic benefits for local people.

Another cause of Indonesia’s massive rate of deforestation is global demand for timber. Approximately 80% of timber production in Indonesia is considered to stem from illegal logging.2

Unsustainable and illegal wildlife trade

Wildlife over-exploitation is severe in Indonesia, where human resources and funding are inadequate to monitor the wildlife trade and enforce existing protection laws.3

Species that are already endangered because of habitat loss and degradation are especially at risk. An estimated 1,000 orangutans may have been imported into Taiwan for the pet trade between 1985 and 1990,4 while the naturally rare and endangered humphead wrasse is illegally exported to high-end restaurants as a prized delicacy.5

Other species are at risk because they are traded for traditional medicines (e.g. tiger bone and rhinoceros horn) or for decorative objects (e.g. scales from hawksbill turtles).
 Humphead (or Napoleon, or Maori) wrasse. Red Sea, Egypt. 
	© WWF / WWF-Hong Kong / Cindy Cheng
Humphead (or Napoleon, or Maori) wrasse. Red Sea, Egypt.
© WWF / WWF-Hong Kong / Cindy Cheng

Over-exploitation of marine resources and destructive fishing

Most, if not all, of Indonesia's capture fisheries are fully or overexploited. Adding to this problem are efforts to increase the catch of Indonesia's fisheries,6 pushing fish populations ever closer to the brink of depletion.

Bad fisheries practices further increase the problem. In the Arafura Sea, eastern Indonesia, bottom trawling for shrimp is strip-mining the ocean floor. The ratio of by-catch to shrimp caught in tropical waters is roughly estimated being, in general, about 10:1. 7

Destructive fishing such as cyanide and blast fishing on coral reefs has degraded not only the ecosystems, but also affected the vast number of marine species that depend on them.


About 96% of Indonesians live within 100 km of the coast,8 placing huge demands on the country’s coastal environment.

Rapid economic development, particularly around major population centres results in large amounts of sewage and industrial pollution, causing the decline of many reef areas especially those near growing cities such as Jakarta, Ambon and Ujung Pandang.9

There are also environmental problems linked to rapid urbanization and economic development, such as air pollution, traffic congestion, garbage management, and reliable water and waste water services.10
	© Marc-Antoine DUNAIS
Traffic jam in Jakarta city centre, Indonesia. Population growth and an increase of middle-class consumers is causing a range of problems in the country's urban centres.
© Marc-Antoine DUNAIS
1 FAO. 2005. Global Forest Resources Assessment. FAO Forestry Paper 147. 348 pp. [download PDF from FAO site - 6.6 Mb]
2 WWF. 2006. Failing the forests: Europe's illegal timber trade. Report. 102 pp. [download PDF from WWF site - 1.7 Mb]
3 Gorog, Dwiyahreni, Siwu, Riley, Alexander, Paoli, Ramono, Lee. 2005. Wildlife trade and implications for law enforcement in Indonesia: a case study from North Sulawesi. Biological Conservation [Biol. Conserv.]. Vol. 123, no. 4, pp. 477-488.
4 WWF. Panda.org. Accessed 29 January 2007.
5 TRAFFIC. ASEAN Wildlife Trade Initiative. Accessed 29 January 2007.
6 Moos PJ, Pet JS, Arifin Z, Djohani R, Erdmann MV, Halim A, Knight M, Pet-Soede L, Wiadnya G. 2005. Policy needs to improve marine capture fisheries management and to define a role for marine protected areas in Indonesia. Fisheries Management and Ecology, 12, 259-268.
7 Allsopp, W.H.L. 1982. Use of fish by-catch from shrimp trawling: future development. In: Fish By-catch--Bonus from the Sea. Report of a Technical Consultation on Shrimp By-catch Utilization held in Georgetown, Guyana, October 27-30, 1981. IDRC, Ottawa, Canada. pp. 29-41.
8 WRI. 2003. Indonesia - Coastal Marine Ecosystems. Accessed 29 January 2007.
9 Chou, L. M., V. S. Tuan, Philreefs, T. Yeemin, A. Cabanban, Suharsono and I. Kessna. 2002. Status of Southeast Asia Coral Reefs. In: C.R. Wilkinson (ed.), Status of coral reefs of the world:2002. GCRMN Report, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville. Chapter 7, pp 123-152.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.

Enter Yes if you accept the terms and conditions