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Indonesian fishers who fought off tin miners prepare to battle all over again

  • Fishers in the Indonesian region that’s a key source of the tin used in iPhones and other electronics have protested a new zoning plan that will allow mining on an important fishing coast.
  • The Toboali area of Bangka Belitung province was only just cleared of small-scale mining in 2018, following similar opposition by fishers, but the new plan threatens to introduce larger-scale operations.
  • Tin mining is the backbone of the Bangka Belitung economy, but has also proven deadly for workers and damaging to coral reefs, mangrove forests and local fisheries.
  • The government insists the zoning plan was approved by consensus and that the interests of the fishing communities were taken into account.

BANGKA BELITUNG, Indonesia — Fishers in Sumatra have joined forces in opposition to a government plan to allow coastal mining that they say will destroy their fisheries.

The government of Bangka Belitung province, a group of islands off the southeastern coast of Sumatra, recently approved a zoning plan that designates the southern subdistrict of Toboali as open to tourism, capture fisheries, and tin mining.

“How could tourism and fisheries stand together in one area with tin mining?” Joni Juhri, chief of the Batu Perahu Fishers Association, told Mongabay in late July. “It’d be a sore sight if a tourist site had tin mining as a view. In addition, imagine the impacts to the fishers. We’ve opposed this for a long time.”

A banner put up by fishers declares their opposition to the zoning plan that will allow tin mining in the coastal subdistrict of Toboali. Image by Nopri Ismi/Mongabay Indonesia.
Coastal mining is a top threat to fisheries in Bangka Belitung Islands province. Image by Nopri Ismi/Mongabay Indonesia.

Mining for tin has long been the leading industry in Bangka Belitung province, which produces 90% of Indonesia’s tin. (The company that would go on to become BHP Billiton, the world’s second-biggest miner, started out mining tin in Belitung and was named after it.) The province is a key hub in the global trade of tin, which is used in alloys, conductors and, recently, as solder in consumer electronics, such as smartphones.

But the mining has proven deadly to the workers and the marine ecosystem. The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), the country’s biggest green NGO, recorded 40 deaths linked to the tin mines between 2017 and 2020, more than half of them in 2019 alone. In 2014, a BBC documentary traced the solder used in Apple’s iPhones to tin mined by children in Bangka. Walhi also found that tin mining had degraded 5,270 hectares (13,022 acres) of coral reef and 400 hectares (988 acres) of mangrove forest.

“Mining in the marine ecosystem is strengthened by the approval of Bangka Belitung’s zoning plan,” said Jessix Amundian, who heads the Bangka Belitung chapter of Walhi. “This means there’s a complacency toward ecological destruction.”

Fishers in Bangka Belitung say they oppose coastal mining activities. Image by Nopri Ismi/Mongabay Indonesia.

This isn’t the Toboali fishers’ first fight against mining. In 2018, they won a years-long battle against artisanal tin mining that had significantly reduced their catch. Since the small-scale mines were shut down, fishers haven’t had to go as far out to sea as before, and their catches have increased, they say.

“The livelihoods of many people here depend on marine resources,” Joni said. “That’s why we strongly oppose all tin mining activities.”

The Bangka Belitung government says the zoning plan was approved by all parties, and the interests of fishing communities had been considered. Fishers will still be able to freely access the marine ecosystem, said Arief Febrianto, the secretary of the provincial marine affairs and fisheries agency.

“It will streamline the process of permit issuance for any activities that take place in the coastal area,” he added.

But fishers like Joni say they will continue to stand against mining in Toboali to prevent the environmental damage associated with the activity. They say they have received support from fishers in other parts of Bangka Belitung who are concerned that similar zoning plans will be introduced across the rest of the province.

“We’ve just been free from tin mining,” Joni said, “and now there’s this zoning plan that threatens the sustainability of our ocean and the source of income for local people.”

Fishers on the southern coast of Bangka Island. Image by Nopri Ismi/Mongabay Indonesia.

This story was first reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and published here on our Indonesian site on July 24, 2020.

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