Indonesia: landmass equal to a city eroded in last 15 years

The country has lost a total of 29,261 hectares of coastal area.

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- Aishwarya Dakhore

Jakarta: With most parts of the world facing a serious climate crisis, a shocking revelation of Indonesia having lost a coastal area equal to the size of Jakarta in the last 15 years has come forward. The country, with 18,000 islands in total, is the world’s largest archipelagic nation. A recent study from the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry observed that the rising sea level and unsustainable economic activities carried out in the region have made it lose a great deal of land to erosion.

The erosion of coastal land, being a natural phenomenon, has a record of losing about 1,950 hectares of area per annum in the coastal regions of Indonesia. However, the reverse process of sedimentation which leads to the reformation of this coastal land has been observed to be inefficient in this region. As a result, it only produces about 895 hectares of new beach land per annum, thus losing a major portion every year.

According to the statistical records, the country has lost a total of 29,261 hectares of coastal area in the last 15 years. This has led to the sinking of villages and inconvenience of citizens, mostly along the western coast of Denmark, Northern coast of Java, East Java, Southeast Sulawesi and Central Java region.

A number of reasons are being speculated to be responsible for these irregularities in both the processes of erosion and sedimentation. While the rate of erosion is faster than normal, the rate of sedimentation process has been recorded to be slower than what it should be in the optimum natural environment. As a result, the land is being lost at a higher speed than it is being recovered.

A researcher with the Centre of Oceanography Research at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Wahyu Budi Setiyawan, said that local factors in the affected region might play more of a role in erosion than global factors.”While the rise of sea levels due to global warming might have contributed to the erosion in some regions, a disruption in the local coastal landscape will have a bigger role in worsening the phenomenon,” he told The Jakarta Post.

A considerable number of affected villages have reportedly cleared up a major portion of Mangrove forests in the coastal regions in order to develop milkfish ponds. Mangrove trees are known to have peculiarities that favor the processes of erosion as well as sedimentation. While the thick underground roots of Mangroves help bind and build the soils, the above ground roots slow down the water flow thus encouraging the deposition of sediments. Due to the loss of Mangrove cover, both the processes have been disturbed leading to macro-level consequences.

Apart from Mangrove deforestation, mining activities along the coastal areas are also estimated to be another vital reason for these disturbances. Several protests against the rampant mining activities in the regions from Southeast Sulawesi, Buton island and Wowoni island have been carried out by the citizens there previously.

Around 60 percent of the total population (about 150 million people) of Indonesia live in coastal areas, according to the government records. This puts a major population at a great life and future risk considering the current condition of the coastline.

Besides, 80% of the total industrial locations in the country are also located in coastal areas, which poses a grave potential threat to the future of Indonesia's economy. 

The major industries such as fisheries and aquaculture, that provide about 60% of domestic fish supply, will also be adversely affected. The country's coastal areas reportedly have a potential of 12 million hectares of aquaculture, which will also go in vain if the situation doesn't improve.

To avoid facing these repercussions, the government has started taking measures for the betterment of the situation. The Public Works and Housing Ministry is installing concrete-based structures such as seawalls to reduce the rate of erosion. The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, on the other hand, has been installing green structures at beaches in 14 regencies since 2015, to help in the land recovery process.

Green structures play the role of scattering mangrove seeds in the area of sedimented land through sea waves, thus being an attempt to recover the lost Mangrove forest cover.

With this approach, the ministry expects that 1,025 ha of coastal areas would be restored by the end of the year. However, most of the researchers are with a view that the government should have taken measures to avoid such a grave level of erosion before it occurs.

“The government needs to work with all parties: regional administrations, civil society and schools. They should increase efforts to recover mangrove forests because they not only protect the environment but also provide economic benefits for people living around them,” Armi Susandi, a researcher with the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), told the Jakarta Post.


Aishwarya Dakhore is an Intern with Indie Journal.