After 64 years of independence, the government is planning to count up exactly how many islands there are in the world’s largest archipelagic country .
The inventory, which will involve direct visual checks on each island, will see the government register an exact number, complete with names for each island, with the United Nations for international recognition in 2012, Freddy Numberi, the minister for maritime affairs and fisheries, said on Wednesday.
“We need to create a record of our islands. This is an effort to save Indonesia for the future,” Numberi said.
He said that border islands would be a priority due to their isolation and role in determining the country’s frontiers.
Currently, official figures put the number of islands at 17,480, but Numberi said that number had been determined by satellite images and estimates.
The minister warned that there was a strong possibility that the number of islands in the country might be far less than previously thought, with more accurate methods now being used to conduct the count.
“If we can find some 15,000 [islands], that would still be really good,” Numberi said.
Many of the previously registered islands, he said, had since been discovered to be just large rocks or sandbars covered by mangroves. Other such geographical features had since disappeared due to rising sea levels or environmental degradation.
“Only recently did we find out that many of these islands do not actually fit the description of an island,” Numberi said.
“Mangroves and atolls are not islands, and there are also some islands that have since been submerged. So we know that we may have fewer islands than previously estimated.”
Numberi said that since August 2007, the government had registered 4,981 islands with the UN Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN) .
The group convenes every five years to determine the status of islands in various countries. All member countries are invited to the discussion and members reserve the right to disagree with the forum. Barring any objection from third parties, an island is usually recognized as part of the country that registered it.
“Our target is that by 2012, the inventory will be complete,” Numberi said.
He did not provide a figure for the funds needed to conduct the count, but said that Rp 6 billion ($600,000) had been allotted for the 2005-2008 inventory period.
Rudolf W. Matindas, head of the National Coordinating Agency for Surveys and Mapping (Bakosurtanal), said that in the past, island identification was mainly based on existing maps. But the ministry and his agency have set up a special team to directly verify each island.
“Now we’re working on getting an updated figure,” he said. “I think it is possible to hand the inventory to the UN by 2012.”