Intense Forest Fires Threaten to Derail Indonesia’s Progress in Reducing Deforestation
Indonesia's forest fires have made headlines globally over the past few weeks. This year's forest fires have affected millions of people. Schools have closed in some areas due to unsafe levels of air pollution, while many people are suffering from respiratory illnesses. The haze has spread so far as to affect Singapore and Malaysia.
While forest fires are cyclical, typically occurring in Indonesia every year from July through October, this year's season is the worst since 2015, when fires resulted in $16 billion in economic losses and spewed more greenhouse gas emissions daily than the entire U.S. economy. The fires — most of which have been set intentionally to clear land — threaten to derail progress Indonesia has made in curbing its deforestation in recent years.
Here's a deeper look:
2019's fires are the worst since 2015.
According to data displayed on Global Forest Watch (GFW) Fires, there have been 66,000 fire alerts from January through the end of September. While this is much lower than fire levels in 2015 — which saw more than 110,000 alerts at the end of September — it far exceeds forest fires levels in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
This year’s fires jeopardize Indonesia’s progress in reducing deforestation.
Of the countries historically most responsible for the world's deforestation, Indonesia is the only one that's actually reduced its deforestation rate in recent years. This year's fires season could derail this promising trend.
According to annual tree cover loss data on Global Forest Watch, Indonesia's deforestation rate declined significantly in 2017 and 2018, after a record-high in 2016. National policies like the forest moratorium and peatland restoration plan played a big role, but these years also benefited from wetter conditions associated with the La Niña weather pattern. While farmers set fires every year to clear land, the blazes are less likely to spread or rage out of control during wet years than they are during dry years. With the return of El Niño this year and its warmer, drier conditions, it's unclear if Indonesia will see further declines in deforestation this year. We'll need to wait until Global Forest Watch's 2019 tree cover loss data is available to measure fires' full impact on the country's forests.
42% of fires have occurred in peatlands.
Fires on carbon-rich peatlands are notoriously difficult to extinguish. Organic matter inside peat makes fires bigger and generates more haze. Burning peatland is also problematic for the climate — draining one hectare of tropical peatland will produce an average of 55 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of burning more than 6,000 gallons of gas.
Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan are experiencing the most fire alerts.
The provinces of Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan have seen the most fire alerts in 2019, followed by Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra. Within those provinces, Ketapang regency in West Kalimantan and Pulang Pisau regency in Central Kalimantan experienced more fire alerts than any other areas of Indonesia — just like they did in 2015.
Ketapang is the biggest regency in West Kalimantan, and an area where the expansion of oil palm plantations has resulted in significant tree cover loss. Pulang Pisau regency is very vulnerable during the dry season because its geological structure is dominated by drained peatland. The government's Mega Rice Project of the mid-1990s sought to convert 1 million hectares of peatlands into rice plantations. The program has since been abandoned because the land proved unsuitable for massive rice cultivation.
What Can We Do?
The fact that fires are still a far cry from the levels seen in 2015, the last time the country experienced an El Niño weather pattern, shows an improvement in the government's effort to tackle forest and peatland fires. However, experts agree that more efforts to reduce forest fires and haze are required, and the country still could go further in preventing forest fires. Three actions could help:
- Restore peatlands.
Peat swamps are normally moist year-round, unless they're drained for agriculture. The risk of fires increases when peatland is dried. A small fire could trigger huge fires on peatland — not only horizontally across the landscape, but also vertically, up to 4 meters below the surface. Even if the top of peatland is free from fires, fires below could survive for months and spread to other areas.Rewetting degraded peatlands — by blocking canals, digging wells and more — will increase peat's water levels over time, potentially slowing down the spread of fires. Comprehensive peatland restoration should also include mapping, restoration planning, revegetation, and revitalizing communities in the surrounding areas so that they will not need to drain peatland again to support agriculture.
- Incentivize non-burning land-clearing methods.
According to Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), the majority of the country's forest fires are caused by humans, both intentionally and unintentionally. Fires are usually caused by land clearing for plantations using slash-and-burn methods. Even though the punishment for such methods could be up to 12 years in prison or a 10 billion rupiah fine (more than $700,000), slash-and-burn continues because it's seen as the easiest and cheapest method to clear land.Banning the practice without a readily accessible alternative is ineffective. In past years, the Indonesian government has disseminated to farmers and companies information about non-burning methods, such as using heavy equipment and biological materials, or cultivating plants that can be grown without draining peatland. But these solutions alone are not enough for people to shift their habits, BNPB admitted, especially since some of them are expensive or unfamiliar to farmers. The agency asked the Technology Assessment and Application Agency (BPPT) for help in finding other methods. BPPT is currently developing biopeat fertilizer technology, a method to improve peatlands' fertility, to prevent slash-and-burn practices. The fertilizer has been tested in a company plantation in Riau since 2017, but it hasn't been massively produced. More time and investment will be required to determine whether this method could be a mainstream approach for farmers.All sectors, including NGOs and civil society, can participate in identifying, popularizing and incentivizing methods that could end slash-and-burn practices for good. As buyers of agricultural commodities, corporations have a huge responsibility in encouraging their suppliers to avoid slash-and-burn practices. Giving them incentives to eliminate slash-and-burn and investing more in sustainable land-clearance practices could help.
- Strengthen data transparency.
Disclosure of information and transparent, accountable and inclusive governance can help solve the problem of forest fires. The Indonesian government is still reluctant to publish data on things like the location of palm oil, timber and other concessions, citing national security reasons. NGOs and the public need this information to help monitor fires in their area and hold land owners accountable. This information can help civil society to be an active partner in pushing for more effective law enforcement.
Reposted with permission from our media associate World Resources Institute.
- Indonesia's Deforestation Dropped 60 Percent in 2017 - EcoWatch ›
- Indonesia Forest-Clearing Ban Criticized as 'Government Propaganda' ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Kamala Harris Introduces Environmental Justice Bill in Senate ... ›
- Harris and AOC Introduce Climate Equity Act to Protect Frontline ... ›
The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.
On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.
France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.
The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.
"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."
Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.
By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.
The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.
"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.
While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.
"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.
Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.
Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.
- Disastrous Russian Oil Spill Reaches Pristine Arctic Lake - EcoWatch ›
- 15,000 Gallon Oil Spill Threatens River and Drinking Water in Native ... ›
- Source of Vast Oil Spill Covering Brazil's Northeast Coast Unknown ... ›
Environmentalists and ornithologists found a friend in a federal court on Tuesday when a judge struck down a Trump administration attempt to allow polluters to kill birds without repercussions through rewriting the Migratory Treaty Bird Act (MBTA).
- Trump Admin Moves to Weaken Restrictions on Killing Migratory Birds ›
- Migratory Birds Lose Protection Against Industry in Latest Trump ... ›
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.
Polyproylene fibers found in one of the sampled sharks. Kristian Parton
Spiny dogfish. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons<p>"There appear to be two routes for these particles to end up in the sharks," Parton said. "The first through their food source [such as] crustaceans. Their prey may already contain these fibers, and consequently it's passed to the shark through bioaccumulation up the food chain. The second pathway is direct ingestion from the sediment. As these sharks feed, they'll often suck up sediment into their mouths, some of this is expelled straight away, although some is swallowed, therefore fibers and particles that may have sunk down into the seabed may be directly ingested from the surrounding sediment as these sharks feed."</p><p>Some sharks only contained a few plastic particles, but others contained dozens. The larger the shark, the more plastic was in it, the findings suggested. The highest number of microplastics was found in an individual bull huss, which had 154 polypropylene fibers inside its stomach and intestines.</p><p>"It's perhaps likely this individual shark had swallowed a larger piece of fishing rope/netting and this has broken down during digestive processes within the shark, and also broken down into smaller pieces during our analysis," Parton said.</p>
Lesser-spotted dogfish caught as bycatch. Kristian Parton<p>While this study only examined the stomach and digestive tracts of demersal sharks, Parton says it's possible that plastic would be present in other parts of the sharks' bodies, such as the liver and muscle tissue. However, more research would be needed to prove this.</p><p>At the moment, there is also limited understanding of how microplastic ingestion would impact a shark's health, although microplastics are known to negatively influence feeding behavior, development, reproduction and life span of zooplankton and crustaceans.</p><p>"If we can show that these fibers contain inorganic pollutants attached to them, then that could have real consequences for these shark species at a cellular level, impacting various internal body systems," Parton said.</p>
Parton in the lab. Kristian Parton<p>This new study demonstrates how pervasive and destructive plastic pollution can be in the marine environment, according to Will McCallum, head of oceans for Greenpeace U.K.</p><p>"Our addiction to plastics combined with the lack of mechanisms to protect our oceans is suffocating marine life," McCallum said in a statement. "Sharks sit on top of the marine food web and play a vital role in ocean ecosystems. Yet, they are completely exposed to pollutants and other human impactful activities. We need to stop producing so much plastic and create a network of ocean sanctuaries to give wildlife space to recover. The ocean is not our dump, marine life deserves better than plastic."</p>
- Pregnant Sperm Whale Found Dead With Nearly 50 Pounds of ... ›
- Green Turtles Are Mistaking Plastic for the Sea Grass They Normally ... ›
- Microplastics Pose Major Problems for Ocean Giants - EcoWatch ›
By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun
After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.
<div id="bb0a7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e5aefc0fff61ab1aea2f4b03c5399864"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291765757013983238" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The #oilspill is devastating but I want to honour the community mobilisation at the Mahebourg waterfront today (to… https://t.co/UWFkZFdjdi</div> — Fabiola Monty (@Fabiola Monty)<a href="https://twitter.com/LFabiolaMonty/statuses/1291765757013983238">1596815930.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"Booms are made of nylon mesh filled with #sugarcane straws all hand-stitched by Mauritian volunteers, empty plastic bottles used as buoys," described Mauritian journalist Zeenat Hansrod in a tweet. </p>
How to Tackle Oil Spills<p>The method for tackling oil spills depends on several factors, including the type and amount of oil in question, location and weather conditions.</p><p>"Once the oil comes to shore, the more intensive the cleaning technique. You can risk causing further damage," said Nicky Cariglia, an independent consultant at Marittima, who specializes in marine pollution. </p><p>"If you wanted to remove all traces of oil, the techniques available become increasingly aggressive the less oil that remains. In mangroves, you would have the added risk of causing damage by trampling," Cariglia told DW. Highly sensitive mangrove ecosystems line the Mauritius east coast that is threatened by the current spill.</p><p>Because oil normally has a lower density than water, it floats on the surface of the ocean. This means that for clean-up action to be most effective, it should happen very quickly after a spill, before the oil disperses. </p>
- 15,000 Gallon Oil Spill Threatens River and Drinking Water in Native ... ›
- Disastrous Russian Oil Spill Reaches Pristine Arctic Lake - EcoWatch ›
- Mauritius' First Major Oil Spill Poses Environmental Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Court Tosses Controversial Pipeline Permits, Rules Forest Service ... ›
- With Treetop Protest, 61-Year-Old Red Terry Leads Fight Against ... ›
- Mountain Valley Pipeline Construction Permit Revoked by Federal ... ›
When Europeans first arrived in North America, Atlantic puffins were common on islands in the Gulf of Maine. But hunters killed many of the birds for food or for feathers to adorn ladies' hats. By the 1800s, the population in Maine had plummeted.
- Experts Recommend Halving Global Fishing for Crucial Prey Species ›
- US Court Upholds Ruling on Vast Marine Monument Established by ... ›