Coastal Erosion Threatens Life on Derawan Island

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Berau, East Kalimantan. An increased rate of marine erosion on the island of Derawan off the coast of Berau district threatens a local community and the endangered turtles that lay their eggs there, officials and conservationists warn.

Bahri, the chief of the island’s sole village, told the Jakarta Globe on Monday that rising sea levels since 2004 have accelerated the rate of coastal erosion.

“The rate at which the erosion is occurring is really fast. The island is visibly decreasing in area,” he said.

“We’ve already lost a volleyball court and a helipad that were built along the coast. Some people have even lost their homes.”

He added that officials from the district and provincial administration had conducted a survey of the phenomenon in 2010 and agreed on the need to build artificial breakers off the coast, but there had been no follow-up action since then.

“With the weather conditions getting worse every year, we’re concerned that the rate of the erosion will keep increasing and the island will eventually be wiped out,” Bahri said.

Rusli Andar, the coordinator for WWF Indonesia’s East Kalimantan marine program, said separately that the main stretch of beach on Derawan was getting narrower as a result of the erosion, with up to 15 meters of land lost to the sea in some areas.

He said this posed a major threat to the green sea turtles that laid their eggs on the beach. The endangered species already faces threats from poachers, theft of eggs and the habitat pollution.

“There haven’t been any efforts by the local authorities to address the erosion, which continues to get worse,” Rusli said.

The population of green turtles inside the Berau marine conservation area, which includes Derawan Island, was estimated at between 30,000 and 50,000 in 2010, according to the WWF. This is down significantly from the estimated 100,0000 to 150,000 turtles in 2002.

Mappasikra, a spokesman for the Berau administration, said the authorities were aware of the problem on Derawan and already had plans in place to relocate most of the island’s 1,800 villagers to the mainland.

He said this was not in response to the erosion issue, but part of conservation efforts to minimize human activity on the island.

But he added the administration also planned to deal with the erosion by building artificial breakers off the island.

“In the near future we hope to be able to put up a reef of rocks to slow the waves that hit the coast, but our main focus for now is to relocate the residents from the island,” Mappasikra said.

“We need to ensure that the island remains in pristine condition, which means limiting the number of people allowed to live there.”

The island is a key ecotourism site, drawing around 22,000 foreign visitors a year, according to district officials.