In Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province, work is underway to develop a special economic zone (SEZ) that will connect this remote region to the global economy.Plans for the SEZ include a highway linking the port of Bitung to the provincial capital, Manado; a seaport expansion to rival Jakarta’s; an industrial zone; and an airport.The development risks fragmenting the habitat of endangered and endemic species like the black macaque. Hundreds of families have also been relocated without compensation to make way for the project. BITUNG, Indonesia – Animals and humans alike have been caught by surprise the excavators, roads and factories that have appeared in the last few years in this port city in North Sulawesi, a remote corner of Indonesia. Erna Tumbelaka only found out when a photo was stuck to her front door. It set a value on her home — compensation she says she never received — and told her to move elsewhere. She and her family, like many in Indonesia, lacked official rights to the land they’ve occupied for more than a decade, making it easy for the state to take it over. Officials planning to build a 39-kilometer (24-mile) highway between the port of Bitung and the provincial capital of Manado wanted to raze her community, including the school where Erna spent a decade selling snacks to students. “We don’t know why it’s there, but if the government says build it, we must follow,” the 71-year-old says from the wood-plank shelter she built after she was evicted in 2016. Outside, the highway lies in a 200-foot (61-meter) wide gash, down a ravine. Now in the final stages of construction, it is set to open at the end of the year. Behind Erna’s home rises Mount Klabat, the highest volcano on Sulawesi Island. Klabat borders Tangkoko Nature Reserve, the home of endemic macaques, hornbills, tarsiers, cuscus and owls. Decades of creeping residential and agricultural development have squeezed the animals inside the reserve and surrounding forests almost to the point of overcrowding. As the road progresses, they are likely to lose their last chance to travel safely from the reserve to other stretches of forest they once roamed. “In some places, there will be a corridor to for species to pass through,” says John Tasirin, a biodiversity researcher and adviser to the governor. “But I think no macaques would dare pass through the villages to meet with other macaques in the south, for example.” Tasirin has been involved in the road’s planning and approved its environmental impact assessment. Despite his concerns about the road’s effect on local wildlife, he says the economic benefits outweigh the risks. For a toll, travelers will be able to travel from the urban tourism hub of Manado to a planned port and industrial area in lesser-known but geostrategic Bitung. It’s just one element of plans to turn this peninsular tip of Sulawesi into a metropolitan hub on the scale of Singapore, planners say. Four of Indonesia’s 37 priority infrastructure projects lie in this area the size of Berlin. The goal is to create one of eight national industrial areas called a special economic zone (SEZ), which includes new power plants, a seaport, airport, bridges and roads stretching around the area. Elevated sections of roadway like this one are intended to allow wildlife to pass beneath the road. But conservationists have doubts that many animals will use such passageways, particularly when they are so close to settled areas. Image by Ian Morse for Mongabay. According to Tasirin, a quest for local and national pride was part of the motivation behind the project. He says he and others from North Sulawesi watched with “jealousy” as Jakarta and Surabaya, home to the country’s two biggest ports, tapped into the country’s wealth in global trade networks. “We wanted to create something that attracts the economy to come to North Sulawesi,” Tasirin says. “Otherwise people will start to say we are not in Indonesia, because we’re far at the border.” The goal is to connect this corner of Indonesia to a globalized trade network, says Noldy Tuerah, a regional economist for the Finance Ministry and the original planner of the metropolitan hub idea beginning in 2001. Hence a seaport on the scale of Jakarta’s. But many residents, Noldy says, only focus on the immediate realities of their rice and coconut crops. “They don’t think they should know the price of coconuts in the Netherlands,” Noldy says from a cafe he frequents in Manado that looks out over the bustling city. Halfway across the 30-kilometer-wide (19-mile) peninsula, Erna sits beside her daughter Truly. If the government had asked what her family needed, Truly says she would have requested equipment for farming. As an alternative, Truly and her husband have joined an independent group of farmers that shares tools and techniques. “The government would rather meet their own needs, not ours. If we built our own homes, we could be happier,” Truly says.