Bangka is an island in the Lembeh Strait. It is part of the Coral Triangle, a priority area for marine conservation, and the Lembeh strait is considered among the planet’s premiere diving destinations for the richness of species and coral that can be found. Bangka Island is located in the southern tip of Sulawesi Island. The island is located close to the Bunaken Marine National Park, the very popular marine-based tourism destination in the world. It is also a habitat for the endangered Dugong and xxxx.
A conflict over an iron ore mine has been raging on the island since 2010 when PT Mikgro Metal Perdana (MMP), a Chinese company based in Hong Kong began exploring for iron ore and other minerals on Bangka after the local government granted the company mining exploration rights to 2,000 hectares on the island without an environmental impact assessment and without the proper approval from the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and in violation of several Indonesian laws relating to land rights, environmental protection, and tourism (1). The entire island of Bangka is only 4,800 ha and thus under Indonesian law that prohibits mining on any island smaller than 200,000 ha cannot be mined.
Bangka is inhabited by approximately 3000 residents from the Sangihe-Siao ethnic group, the indigenous inhabitants of the area. They live by selling fish and commercial products such as copra, cloves, maize, cashews, and some vegetables. Some also work in the growing local tourism trade, based around marine tourism.
Residents are practically united in their opposition to the project, with a locally held referendum showing that 90% were opposed. They believe the project will impact the coral reefs threatening both fishing catches and tourism. Further, the exploratory mine has already caused stoppages to the fresh water supply in Likunu village (personal communication). The diving community has also expressed concern, as pollution in the waters around Bangka could lead to damage of the sea and underwater species in famous tourist spots such as Bunaken and Lembeh.
An alliance of Bangka residents and resort managers demanded that Manado’s Administrative High Court cancel the exploration license that District Head Singal had approved. After the court rejected this request in 2012, the alliance appealed to the Makassar administrative court, which ruled in their favour in March 201, agreeing that the mine permit was unconstitutional, based on laws related to coastal and small island management, environmental protection including the requirements to produce a environmental impact analysis (AMDAL), and laws relating to minerals and coal. The court order required District Head Singal to revoke the mining permit (1).
But despite the ruling, in July 2013 the district head approved a permit for full production mining operations by PT MMP, changing the permit status from an exploratory to an operational license. The district head also attempted to overturn the Makassar high court’s decision by appealing to to Indonesia’s Supreme Court in Jakarta. In September 2013 the Supreme Court ruled against the district head and the mining company, upholding the Makassar court’s March 2013 decision. This should have required North Minahasa’s district head to cancel the mining licences granted to PT MMP, yet this was not done.
Further in November 2013, the North Sulawesi Parliament rezoned Bangka island from an island area intended for tourism, fishing and agriculture (invoking appropriate environmental protections) to a status that designates the island for its mineral potential, appropriate for exploration and eventual mine operation. Further, weeks after the rezoning, the Indonesian parliament revised Law no. 27/2007 to allow large-scale extractive industry investment on five small islands previously protected by small island conservation provisions – including Bangka.
Now empowered, PT Mikgro Metal Perdana (MMP) began offloading heavy machinery to be used for mining on Feb. 18, 2014. Hundreds of villagers and fishermen attempted to stop the ship by surrounding the ship with fishing boats while more protesters attempted to block the beach. Armed police reportedly leveled their weapons at protesters in an attempted to quell uprising. At least one boat was destroyed when a water-taxi collided with it. All four occupants were rescued with minor injuries (2).
There have also been reports that islanders resisting the mining developments have been intimidated, shot at and arrested (1). The villagers have demanded that the police force the company to leave on the grounds of the Supreme Court’s annulment of the mining permit but excavation work and road building has already begun, mangroves along the coast have also been destroyed. Some families, mainly in Ehe village (situated on a hillside with little agricultural value) have agreed to sell their land to the company, and have been promised to be relocated to new houses in an area of mangroves on the southern end of the island. As of March 2014 it seemed the agreements have not yet been settled, and only a part of the payment has been paid and the settlements have not yet been built (1). Despite this, some evictions have already been undertaken.
Environmental groups say the mining betrays the principles of the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) adopted in Manado in 2009. ‘[The CTI] was set up to preserve small islands and coastal areas for future generations by opening up limited economic development in the sectors of fishery, agriculture and environmentally friendly small scale industries’.
According to diving operators, as of yet the company has not provided proof that there are economically recoverable reserves of iron ore on the island following the exploration license. They question whether there is potentially something else in the ground of interest to the company.
In December 2014, a delegation was sent to Jakarta to file a complaint and again demand that the National Government take action against the illegal mining and the Supreme Court verdict be upheld.