indonesia corners

indonesia corners

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Deep Sea Water New Creatures Revealed

Indonesia is rich in bio-diversities spread out throughout the archipelago either on land or in the deep sea. Its flora and fauna are basically divided into two regions by a deep trench called Wallace Line stretching from Lombok Strait at the south up to north along Makassar Strait and ends up at the trench located west of Sangihe-Talaud islands.  

However, there are still many species which are still unknown especially in incognito areas in the middle of the jungle and in the deep sea. Several expeditions had been carried out in several rainforest and offshore areas either by government institutions or universities to explore the bio-diversity, similar to what Wallace did, but leaving the deep sea trenches untouched.

To further explore the “terra” incognito, Indonesia (BPPT) has recently cooperated in form of a joint expedition with the United States (NOAA) in Sangihe-Talaud offshore, tagged as Index Satal 2010, held in June-August 2010. The mission is to reveal parts of the deep underwater mystery, identify new creatures, map the seabed topography and initial indication of mineral formation.

Some shallow water volcanoes were identified only at 100 to 200 meters below the sea level and a much big volcano, called Kawio Barat, at deep water of 6,000 meters below the sea level. The peak of the volcano, which is around 3,400 meters as measured from the sea floor, is still far below the sea level. The expedition teams studied the hydrothermal activities of the bursting and bubble gases erupted by the volcano and its surrounding marine biota which live in the darkness without sun rays.

The effect of hot deep sea water on the eco-system sustainability was explored as they produce nutrients necessary for the creature living in such hot deep water. New species of deep marine creatures were discovered, some of which are very unique mega-mouth shark and sort of shrimp species, the latter living comfortably in the boiling sea of 400 oC caused by active volcanoes. In addition to those marine biotas, around the mountain tops, the experts found rich gold nodules, economically untapped because of the depth of the seabed where they are discovered.  

As only 5 percent of sea waters in Indonesia have been explored, the plan to map the underwater mountain range and trenches down to 9 kilometers below the sea level is set up. The study of newly found creatures is important to solve the mystery of certain phenomenon such as why a sea creature can bear the extremely high pressure and temperature and how its extracts can be benefitted for human immunity to certain kinds of diseases.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Is Indonesian Sandalwood in the Process of Extinction?

Indonesia has various exotic plants, among other the Sandalwood (Santalum), called Cendana in Indonesia. It is a kind of precious tree whose fragrant wood is used as spices, incense ingredients, and aromatherapy.  A good sandalwood timber can store the aroma for centuries. The timber was used for lady’s fans which fragrance spreading out throughout the surrounding. In Java, the timber was used for the sheath of a precious kris, a Javanese traditional dagger. In olden days, sandalwood was considered as one of the media to make the ambient purer which makes people closer to God. 

In Indonesia, the plant grows well limited in dry places such as Timor, Pantar and Alor islands. The plant is suitable with the dry climate of those places even though people can plant it in more fertile land such as in Java. However, the wood fragrance will not as strong as the one found in those islands, the reason why there is no commercial sandalwood plantation outside those islands.

During the colonial era, due to its high commercial value, as it was also imposed to the teakwood plantation,  the Dutch government issued a regulation stating that all sandalwoods became the government property, regardless they grew up in the forest, in the yard or garden of the villagers.

The people, whose yards already filled with sandalwood, had an obligation to cultivate and grow the plant and submit the products to the government. Any violation of the regulation would be sanctioned and punished. The locals, being faced with the strange and harsh regulation, cut down all sandalwoods found in their gardens, yards or even in the forest, saying that if a regulation just put them in trouble, then the source of the trouble must be exterminated.

In our surprise, the regulation was still put into effect after Indonesian independence until 1999. Realizing that the regulation was one of the main sources leading to the extermination of sandalwood, the government of Nusa Tenggara Timur gives the right to the people to plant and cultivate sandalwood in their gardens or yards through the issuance of the Regional Regulation No. 2/1999. People are glad to cultivate the plant because they can produce base oil of sandalwood, which is in its pure form, is very rare and expensive.

Sandalwood seedling which is semi-parasitic plant needs several host plants to support its early life during the cultivation. In its early cultivation period, the tree needs three kinds of host plants.  Purslane (Althernantera sp), a local plant species called krokot, is best suited as a primary host when the sandalwood saplings were in nurseries.

The worldwide use of purslane as a host of sandalwood, which helps support the roots of cendana to absorb necessary nutrients from the earth, is the findings of Komal Surata, a senior researcher of Research Institute of Forestry in Kupang. When its height passes the krokot plant, cendana needs the support of turi (Sebasnia grandiflora) or acacia ( Acacia villosa) for the protection from direct sun rays. In the last term, the johar (Casuarina junghunniana) is required to help the plant grow well. In a time when the plant has grown up big enough, the topsoil must be dry enough otherwise the tree can be very fertile but has no fragrance. 

Before this discovery, many seedlings died during the cultivation because local people did not know the importance of host plants. Today after the support of the experts from Bogor Agricultural Institute (IPB), and the Seed Technology Centre (BPTH) in Denpasar in close collaboration with several international agencies, the locals in East Nusa Tenggara know better how to cultivate and conserve genetic resources of this species. 

Sandalwood with good quality is now saleable at the price of around Rp100,000 (US$ 10) per kilogram. The points of export are Kupang and Merauke which the main destinations are  Taiwan, Hongkong and the Middle East where the price soars up four times. The  Kupang and Merauke local governments each gets an export annual quota of 1,500 tons either in the form of logs or added-value products. 

Any new company who want to become the sandalwood exporters must meet the requirement to cultivate sandalwood plasma which the capacity of producing at least  20 tons of logs per year which is difficult to realize.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Will the Komodo Park Become One of the Nature's Seven Wonders?

In several small volcanic islands located in the middle of the Pacific Ring of Fire there live prehistoric dragons named Komodo (Varanus komodoensis) in accordance with the name of the main island they live in. The islands are located in the Nusa Tenggara Timur which weather is relatively arid and the lands are mostly covered by savannah suitable for Komodo life.

This advantage is enhanced by the condition where the local people all live in the coastal areas. In addition, their attitude and belief prevent them to disturb the creatures that make the animals do not get much trouble from the human being.
The dragon is just one among very rare animals on earth which are capable of parthenogenesis in the sense that a female komodo living without a male is able to produce fertilized eggs. But such unnatural birth animals are relatively weak and detrimental to various diseases.  

Komodo is estimated to live since 33 million years ago as indicated by the examination of the carcasses fossils resembling Varanus Komodoensis found in Africa. Komodo is then considered as a remnant of the prehistoric dragon who still survive and live in the modern era, a sort of Indonesian's Jurassic Park. This is one of the reasons why the islands where Komodo lives are so attractive for the visitors as they have a kind of feeling as though they travel back in time into the prehistoric era. 

The government converted the islands Komodo, Rinca, and Padar, and a number of nearby islets to become National Park in1980. Currently, the government promotes the park as a candidate for the selection of the seven new wonders of nature under the considerations among others that Komodo dragon is an endangered species and must be protected from illegal poachers. In addition, the government wants the park to become an eco-tourism destination and to boost the total number of tourists visiting the islands. 

The islands can be reached from Jakarta by airplane to Kupang and from there, visitors should transit and use the smaller plane to Bajawa or directly by boat to Labuan Bajo which the number of accommodations is increasing due to the tourists prefer to stay there. 

On top of Komodo National Park, the government also proposed Borobudur temple, Krakatau and Toba Lake National Parks, but only Komodo Park reached the final selection. The vote is done worldwide through internet organized by the Foundation of the New 7 Wonders based in Basel.  Komodo Park should compete with the other 27 finalists and now it ranks No. 11. Its fate will be determined and will be announced publicly on November 11, 2011. 

Folks, let’s vote for Komodo National Park and hope for the best.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Frontier Islands, the Frontlines or Backyards?

Indonesian people should be very fortunate as their country endowed with thousands of islands spread throughout the band area along the equator of 5600 kilometers long and 2000 kilometers wide. The Indonesian people call this archipelago, which consists of no less than 17,500 islands, equatorial emeralds as they all look so green spread out throughout the blue sea water which covers two-thirds of the country areas.

Among those islands, a total of 92 are located at the outermost peripheral, 12 of which are used as the base points to draw the boundaries with the neighboring countries. A total of 183 base points are required to draw territorial, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf boundaries.

All of those sea boundaries are drawn up based on the archipelagic state principles following the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)  1982 which was nationally ratified by the Law of the Sea No. 17 of 1985. Some of the boundary disputes with the neighboring countries have been settled and some are still an on-going process. There are boundaries which have been settled toughly lasting for years where there are mineral or other natural resources in the surrounding areas.  

As mandated by the UNCLOS 1982, Indonesia is now registering around 5,000 islands at United Nations of which around 3000 islands are enlisted while the rest are still in the line. By August 2011, Indonesia will send an interdepartmental team to the UN Working Group of Expert on Geographical Names in order to finalize the matter.

Indonesian people, the government included, have a negative tendency to consider their country boundaries as the backyards instead of the front lines. Among those 92 frontier islands, 31 have permanent residents, 13 have seasonal residents and 48 are unpopulated, mostly lack of transportation and communication and highly underdeveloped. To cope with all of those problems, the government shows its political will to change the bad attitude by issuing the Presidential Regulation No. 78/2005 with the stress on the coordination of related ministries responsible for solving the issues.

What did and what will the government do to follow up the Presidential Regulation? One significant thing that has been done was the plantation of 1,000 mangrove seedlings and the reclamation of the shorelines of Nipah island in front of Singapore by military personnel to preserve the country boundary median line with Singapore set up in 1973. 

Other programs are in the risk of being slow-down either because of they are not down-to-earth or difficult to coordinate as the ministries involved are so numerous.  The underline is that the outermost islands should be used as the basis of the economic and defense synergy, some of which are good for military quarters and field training.

As most of the islands are remote, the difficulty of the energy supply from the outside especially for electricity generation,  communication and transportation is the most crucial problem to settle. Albeit their lower efficiency and relatively high cost, windmills and solar panel are appropriate to be used in hybrid with the diesel engine.  If possible the fuel is locally produced from the jatropha plantation as it is recently implemented by one of the mining companies in Kalimantan, or other bio-fuels if more appropriate. 

One doesn't need to use cars and build conventional roads in such small islands.  Using motorcycles and building narrow roads suitable for the passage of such motorcycles is more appropriate. To reach the far away distant islands, amphibian airplanes (beach-crafts) are required on top of conventional boats. Last but not least,  the government shouldn't do business as usual and pay more attention to the welfare and morale of the civil servants and military personnel who are posted thereby giving them a reasonable and more appropriate incentive.

We must give appreciation to the initiative and self-supporting expedition done by the Association of Forest Explorer and Mountaineers (Wanadri) and the Nusantara Cultural House who visit and explore all of those frontier islands by means of traditional boats such as Pinisi (Bugis boat) and fishing boats.  Other youngster groups and associations are encouraged to do similar expeditions to get better acquaintance of their homeland.  

Just to give the sense of remoteness of those far-away islands, here is some brief information on  those 12 islands where the base points are located:
  1. Rondo Island (base point # 177), offshore west of Nangro Aceh Darussalam (Sabang Regency), determines the borderline with India, ratified through a Presidential Decree No 51, 1974.
  2. Berhala Island (base point # 184), offshore east of North Sumatra (Serdang Regency),  determines the borderline with Malaysia. The local government makes it as the eco-maritime tourism object to emphasize the Indonesian authority on that island.
  3. Nipah Island (base point # 190), offshore of Batam Municipality, determines the borderline with Singapore.  Its area is around 60 hectares during the low tide, and only a half during the high tide. The military personnel have planted 1,000 mangrove seedlings and reclaimed its shorelines to preserve the boundary median line between the two countries set up in 1973.
  4. Sekatung Island (base point # 030) at the South China Sea, Natuna regency, determines the borderline with Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand. The northernmost Indonesian island is unpopulated until 2007 when the county government built houses for five families and placed a platoon of Army troops on the island.
  5. Marore Island (base point # 055), Mianggas Island (base point # 056) and Marampit Island (base point # 057) part of Sangihe Regency, offshore north of North Sulawesi, determine the borderline with Mindanao (Philippine). Marampit, the biggest island, is around 15 square kilometers populated with around 1,500 people. Once there was a kingdom (7th century) which used to fight against Zulu (Philippine) to maintain their sovereignty. Many people of those islands talk in Tagalog and use peso for inter-trading.

  6. Fani Island (base point # 066), Fanildo Island (base point # 072) and Bras Island (base point # 072A) offshore north of Sorong Regency (Irian Jaya Barat), determine the borderline with the Republic of Palau. A company of Navy personnel is posted there to guard the frontier islands.
  7. Batek Island (base point # 011) at Ombai Strait (Kupang Regency), East Nusa Tenggara, determines the borderline with Timor Leste. The steep coast of this unpopulated island is constantly eroded by big waves.
  8. Dana Island (base point # 121) offshore south of Nusa Tenggara Timur (Kupang Regency), determines the borderline with Australian Ashmore atol. This unpopulated small island possesses a good white sandy beach and nice off the coast for scuba diving. There is a lake right in the middle of the island, but hardly any people from the surrounding island can take the water due to the big waves from the high sea.