DixPix Photographs

     

INDONESIAN ARCHIPELAGO

 
     
  ECOLOGY AND LAND USE PROBLEMS  

 

This page concerns Sumatra, where the writer worked at various periods from 1995 to 1997.  It is one of the world's largest islands and straddles the equator.  It once held a rain forest second to none in lushness and diversity, ranging from coastal mangroves to high mountains.  But not even in the Amazon have I seen a rainforest being destroyed so rapidly.  In part this is greed and the endemic corruption at all levels, but in part also to the fact that those who actually live in the rural areas seem to dislike the forest, both the jungle and the creatures living therein. 

 

Here is what the rainforests of Indonesia increasingly look like, and many are happy to see them disappear. Click to see big picture (640x424 pixels; 78 KB)
What is two scrawny to be logged, is simply burned over huge areas. Click to see big picture (640x425 pixels; 104 KB)
A Sumatran log loader.  Unlike North America, logging is at least a labor-intensive activity here, providing work for many hands. Click to see big picture (640x400 pixels; 130 KB)
Most of the logging is technically illegal.  From sideroads everywhere, trucks pour onto the main roads, forming impromptu convoys heading for mills on the coast. Click to see big picture (640x432 pixels; 94 KB)
Often the trucks plug the road, passing with limited visibility.  Note that the heavy loads have rutted the pavement in this tropical heat. Click to see big picture (555x480 pixels; 106 KB)
Here trucks stop at a police station to pay the bribe to continue with illegal loads.  It was about the equivalent of 25 cents per truck per police station in 1978. Click to see big picture (640x439 pixels; 103 KB)
To protect itself from overloaded trucks passing through, the city of Pekanbaru put up this gate.  Only trucks that could fit through it could continue.  The discarded logs became something of a cottage industry.  Later a road to the coastal mill was constructed to bypass Pekanbaru. Click to see big picture (640x307 pixels; 77 KB)
But even where logging has been partial or not economic, the forests are set on fire when dry enough. Click to see big picture (606x480 pixels; 145 KB)
While logs await loading, another sector of forests goes up in smoke. Click to see big picture (640x479 pixels; 74 KB)
It is not all about logging. Here a hut goes up in a flattened forest. This has not been abandoned and will likely become a plantation. Click to see big picture (640x442 pixels; 150 KB)
Rural huts are built on stilts to limit the number of creepy-crawly visitors.
From the air the rows of trees and a maze of roads can be seen, as vast areas of tropical forest are converted to plantations.  HIstorically rubber was important, but now palm oil seems to dominate. Click to see big picture (640x442 pixels; 88 KB)
Where there is still forest nearby, new plantations must put up a wild animal fence such as this to keep inhabitants from eating the young palm foliage. Click to see big picture (640x448 pixels; 143 KB)
A desperate leap in a dying forest. At the approach of humans, a monkey jumps from one of the few remaining trees. Click to see big picture (640x450 pixels; 118 KB)
An orphaned baby monkey, terrified by the fires, stands uncertainly at the edge of a river which blocks his retreat. Click to see big picture (640x419 pixels; 74 KB)
When I first worked in the Telukkuantan region of Sumatra in 1995, footprints of the sumatran tiger and even the rhinoceros were fairly common in the rainforest. Click to see big picture (640x470 pixels; 111 KB)
By the time I last saw the region in 1999, there were no forests. Click to see big picture (640x419 pixels; 122 KB)
Come the rainy season, regions stripped of vegetation are open to erosion. Click to see big picture (481x480 pixels; 107 KB)
In the El Niño year of 1997, the rains almost failed, and the unusually dry conditions gave the rural people an chance to rid themselves of the forests. Click to see big picture (640x414 pixels; 77 KB)
The resulting smoke pall was horrendous in Sumatra, but also smothered Singapore, and parts of Malaysia and other countries, bringing loud condemnation. Click to see big picture (640x410 pixels; 78 KB)
The Indonesian government claimed these were wildfires and that all was being done to quell them.  In actual fact, men such as these were being paid to light them throughout.  This was the rural Sumatran's big chance to destroy the rainforest and they made the best of it. Click to see big picture (640x429 pixels; 96 KB)
Finally, the rains arrive, as they do each year.  But what do they find that is left? rains arrive
This is, at least on maps, a national park.  Not only has it been cut and burned, but palm oil seedlings are planted-- clearly nobody is worried. The local people told me that parks don't really exist. Click to see big picture (640x384 pixels; 114 KB)
Indonesians are a very clean people.  It is part of their culture to wash regularly, and the many clean rivers coming from the mountains allow those outside of the city an opportunity to do so. Click to see big picture (640x461 pixels; 130 KB)
The same cannot be said about the disposal of garbage.  Welcome to the town of Logas. Click to see big picture (640x421 pixels; 124 KB)
Where the jungle is in tact, such as here, the waters are usually clear. Click to see big picture (640x439 pixels; 119 KB)
But when it rains, floodwaters from deforested regions are loaded with silt. silt
In some parts pollution also arises from people living on stilt homes over the river, or at least having their out-houses there. Click to see big picture (310x480 pixels; 85 KB)
Mining also contributes.  Here a primitive mill allows local miners to extract gold by grinding ore with mercury, a dangerous pollutant of water and fish. Click to see big picture (640x422 pixels; 129 KB)
Blocks of freshly tapped rubber are allowed to "cure" in water.  This process smells terribly, and I have no idea of what it adds to the water. Click to see big picture (640x470 pixels; 145 KB)
The Sungai Kotor (Dirty River) in southwestern Sumatra runs yellow and acid.  There are no mines, however, this is due to weathering of large, natural deposits of iron pyrite.  There may be fools gold, but alas no real gold, as this panner is discovering. Click to see big picture (640x443 pixels; 94 KB)
Drainages such as this one host endless mounds of rounded boulders, left over from placer-mining for gold by the Dutch during the colonial period.  With no fine material left, nothing has grown here across all those years. Click to see big picture (640x454 pixels; 116 KB)
If worried about the health of the water, you can always cut a liana (a thick jungle vine) for a drink.  Of course you must know which species, some are poisonous. liana drink