Mon, 23 Sep 2002

Abrasion looms over Lampung eastern coast

Oyos Saroso H.N., The Jakarta Post, Sukadana, Lampung Timur

Thousands of people's homes and hectares of fish ponds along the eastern shore of Lampung could be submerged in seawater within two years as a result of the massive clearing of mangrove forests by unauthorized fish farmers.

Mangrove forests on the eastern coasts of Lampung and Tulangbawang have been widely destroyed by about 4,000 fish farmers who illegally cleared the forests for fish ponds.

These farmers have cleared a total of 40 kilometers of mangrove forests along the coastline over the past five years, according to the Lampung chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment.

The head of the Walhi chapter, Mukri Friatna, urged the provincial administration to replant the mangrove forests. Otherwise, he warned, all of the fishponds and thousands of homes along the coast would vanish within two years.

He said the distance between the shore and most coastal villages used to be more than one kilometer, with the two separated by mangrove forests.

Because of the destruction of the mangrove forests, that distance has shrunk to between 100 meters and 200 meters.

"Just take a look at Muara Belukang village. It is only 100 meters from the seashore. I'm afraid the waves will engulf about 200 houses there this year," he said.

Local fish farmers, who are also fishermen, have complained about smaller catches as a result of the destruction of the mangrove forests.

"Besides breeding fish, we also earn money by fishing. When the forests were still there, we did not have to go far from the village to get fish because fish were abundant in the mangrove forests," Pendi, a resident of Muara Belukang village, said.

Mukri said thousands of other fish farmers and fishermen living in the villages near the coast had also suffered losses because of the illegal fishponds.

He, therefore, urged the Lampung provincial administration to take firm action to shut down the illegal fish ponds.

The unauthorized fish farmers came from various parts of Lampung. They began cutting down the mangrove forests five years ago, when there was a lapse in security following the downfall of former president Soeharto.

Meanwhile, some of the illegal farmers said they cleared the mangrove forests and established fishponds because they could no longer stand to live in poverty.

"We are poor. The situation is very difficult for us, even to get food to eat. Since the crisis we have been eating cassava, but that is expensive also. So we didn't think it would do any harm to open the fishponds," Mijo, 40, an illegal farmer who is a native of Kuala Penet in East Lampung, said.

The mangrove forests had functioned as a greenbelt protecting farmers and villages from the sea.