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Indonesia lays out plan to rescue 15 lakes under pressure from human activity

  • Indonesia has announced a plan to restore 15 deteriorating lakes across the country by 2024.
  • The ecosystem of these lakes has been degraded largely by human-related activities, such as pollution, logging and destructive fishing practices.
  • Observers have welcomed the new policy, saying the strategies outlined appear to address the threats faced by the lakes.
  • These lakes are crucial in supporting the livelihoods of local communities as they serve as a source of freshwater, as flood control, and as sites for fish farming and tourism.

JAKARTA — The Indonesian government has unveiled the country’s first national priority plan to recover the ecosystems of 15 major lakes in “critical” condition by 2024.

“Saving these national priority lakes is an effort to control damage, maintain, restore, and recover the conditions and functions of lake water bodies, water catchment areas, and lake borders so that they are beneficial for the welfare of the communities in a sustainable way,” says the decree signed by President Joko Widodo on June 22.

The government says the lakes have long been experienced ecological degradation, chiefly sedimentation, which has resulted in their rapid shrinking and a decline in the biodiversity they host. This in turn has had environmental, economic and sociocultural repercussions. A presidentially appointed task force has also been formed to carry out the plan to save the lakes, and is headed by Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment.

Fish-farming pens at Sualan in Lake Toba. The aquaculture industry is a major contributor to pollution in the lake. Image by Aria Danaparamita.
Hundreds of fish are bagged after a mass die-off event. Image by Ayat S. Karokaro/Mongabay Indonesia.

The idea of rescuing Indonesia’s deteriorating lakes has been around since the 1970s, but the first meaningful steps were made in 2017. That’s when government officials and academics from across the country gathered in Gorontalo province to declare that a national body should be formed to direct attention and funding to the nation’s more than 800 lakes.

The planning ministry in 2019 announced 15 lakes were in “critical” condition as a result of environmental degradation, often caused by human activities, such as pollution, logging and destructive fishing practices. Recurring massive fish die-offs are commonly reported events in some of the lakes.

Some observers have praised the new policy to rescue the lakes, saying that the strategies laid out in the decree appear to address the problems that the lakes face. But they also warn that lake recovery efforts should also consider the impacts to local communities. These lakes are crucial in supporting the livelihoods of millions of Indonesians, serving as a source of freshwater, a form of flood control, and a site for fish farming and tourism.

“A solution for that can be establishing zones in the lakes for protection and for fish farming,” said Monalisa Aurora, a researcher with the Aceh Climate Change Initiative (ACCI) at Syiah Kuala University, who is also a member of a civil society initiative known as the Forum for Saving the Archipelago Lakes.

Fishing huts on Lake Limboto. Image by KrisNM via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Monalisa said another crucial step is to monitor the progress and results from the implementation of the new policy, and to enforce strict measures against anyone continuing to cause harm to lakes.

She called on the government to expand the rescue efforts to other deteriorating lakes in Indonesia, and create a special program to raise public awareness of the importance of protecting water bodies.

“We hope that all stakeholders will pay attention to protecting Indonesian lakes, particularly the factors that can threaten their sustainability,” Monalisa said.

The national priority lakes are:

  1. Toba in North Sumatra province;
  2. Singkarak (West Sumatra);
  3. Maninjau (West Sumatra);
  4. Kerinci (Jambi);
  5. Rawa Danau (West Java);
  6. Rawa Pening (Central Java);
  7. Batur (Bali);
  8. Tondano (North Sulawesi);
  9. Mahakam-Semayang Cascade (East Kalimantan);
  10. Sentarum (West Kalimantan);
  11. Limboto (Gorontalo);
  12. Poso (Central Sulawesi);
  13. Tempe (South Sulawesi);
  14. Matano (South Sulawesi);
  15. Sentani (Papua).

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