Mangroves ring the shores of many of Indonesia’s more than 17,000 islands. But in the most populated areas, the world’s largest mangrove forests have been steadily whittled away, and with them, the ability to store blue carbon.
As the world’s fourth-most populous nation has grown, pressure on the mangroves has too. More than 756,000 hectares of mangroves have been cleared and turned into brackish ponds to farm water shrimp and milkfish.
Every year for the past three decades, another 19,000 hectares has been ripped out for aquaculture and increasingly, for oil palm plantations. As of 2015, an estimated 40% of the country’s mangroves had been degraded or lost.
Is this another predictable bad news story about the environment? No. This is a good news story. That’s because Indonesia’s government is, rising to the challenge of conserving its mangroves – and restoring lost forests.
Government investment in mangroves is rising and the political will is in place. Indonesia’s ambitious goal is to restore almost all of what’s been lost, rehabilitating 600,000 hectares of mangroves by 2024.
Why have Indonesia’s mangroves been hard hit?
In a 2012 interview, former Indonesian forestry official Eko Warsito explained why his country’s mangroves were disappearing:
More than 50% of Indonesia’s population lives in coastal areas, and most of them are poor. An ordinary plot of mangroves is worth $84 a hectare. But if it’s cleared and planted with oil palms, it can be worth more than $20,000 a hectare.
Unfortunately, this difference in perceived value has seen mangroves degraded or replaced. You can glimpse the current state of Indonesia’s 3.3 million hectares of mangrove area in the map below, which was released last year by Indonesia’s environment and forestry ministry.
Mangroves are broadly in good condition in the provinces of Papua and West Papua. But in the more populated areas – especially around the densely populated island of Java – mangroves have been largely deforested and degraded.