Orangutan in Central Kalimantan.
This Earth Day, we’ve decided to highlight the spectacular natural wonders of Indonesia, which is arguably the most biodiverse country on Earth.
Indonesia is rich with wildlife thanks to its geography: some 17,000 islands spanning 1.9 million square kilometers (741,000 square miles) of tropical seas. Accordingly, the country is home to an incredible array of habitats ranging from rainforests to tropical glaciers to coral reefs, which support untold numbers of species.
Yet Indonesia’s biodiversity is among the most threatened on the planet. Large-scale forest destruction, air and water pollution, and overfishing and overharvesting have damaged and degraded vast areas of habitat, putting species at risk and undermining traditional livelihoods.
Beetlenut palms in Aceh
But there are signs that the tide may be on the brink of turning. In 2007 Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono committed to slowing greenhouse emissions growth by reforming the country’s notoriously corrupt and destructive forestry sector. Since then, the country has established a moratorium on new logging and palm oil concessions across millions of hectares of previously unprotected forests. A handful of prominent private sector companies have joined the fray, establishing zero deforestation policies that could eventually push lawmakers further in establishing and enforcing environmental laws. In the courts, judges have ruled that the system for managing Indonesia’s forest estate is unconstitutional — central government agencies are violating core principles when they grant massive industrial concessions on lands traditionally managed by local communities. At the same time, the spread of mobile phones and networks is empowering local communities, activists, and conservationists like never before. So the news out of Indonesia isn’t all bad — there can indeed be a future for the archipelago’s native species and traditional cultures.
Sumatran elephants in Bukit Barisan Selatan
Below is a set of pictures I’ve taken around Indonesia in recent years. There are over 10,000 more in the Indonesia section of the site. High resolution downloads and prints are available via Zenfolio.
Photos from Indonesia
(03/17/2014) Skirting the Malacca Strait near the Indonesian city of Dumai the air is thick with haze from peat fires burning below. As the sky clears, a landscape of sharply-cut geometric shapes becomes apparent. What was once carbon-dense peat forests and rainforests are today massive oil palm and wood pulp plantations.
(05/16/2011) Deep in the rainforests of Malaysian Borneo in the late 1980s, researchers made an incredible discovery: the bark of a species of peat swamp tree yielded an extract with potent anti-HIV activity. An anti-HIV drug made from the compound is now nearing clinical trials. It could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year and help improve the lives of millions of people. This story is significant for Indonesia because its forests house a similar species. In fact, Indonesia’s forests probably contain many other potentially valuable species, although our understanding of these is poor. Given Indonesia’s biological richness — Indonesia has the highest number of plant and animal species of any country on the planet — shouldn’t policymakers and businesses be giving priority to protecting and understanding rainforests, peatlands, mountains, coral reefs, and mangrove ecosystems, rather than destroying them for commodities?