- A group of locals have since 2013 tried to clean up the trash pooling in Lake Sipin in the Sumatran province of Jambi.
- Their efforts have received national attention, with their leader, Leni Haini, awarded the country’s highest environmental award in 2022 by the government.
- Indonesia has announced a plan to restore 15 lakes (Sipin isn’t included) across the country by 2024, citing their high degree of degradation, chiefly sedimentation, which has resulted in their rapid shrinking and a decline in the biodiversity they host.
- 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.
JAMBI — A quintet of Jambi residents gathered one morning in May at the home of Leni Haini, an Indonesian environmental activist who last year received a prestigious award from the government for her cleanup initiative of the Sumatran province’s Lake Sipin.
The group departed that morning from Leni’s house in Legok, a village in Jambi province that’s located near the Lake, to clean up part of the 120-hectare (300-acre) body of water from trash that had piled up there. They made a quick boat trip to cross the lake and arrived at a floating garbage depot equipped with two boats for collecting the waste. Each boat can hold up to 5 metric tons of trash.
“When it’s good weather, there won’t be more than half a ton of garbage,” Leni told Mongabay Indonesia. “But when it’s raining, it could be 4-5 tons or more. It depends on the boats, and we’ve got quite old boats here.”
Leni said they collected both organic and inorganic waste from the lake. Organic waste, such as water hyacinths that if left uncontrolled could degrade the integrity of the freshwater ecosystem, are brought back to land to be reused as fertilizer, Leni said.
Inorganic waste, such as plastic bottles and diapers, require proper recycling or destruction, she added. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Leni and her team also recovered large amounts of medical waste and personal protective gear from the lake.
Lake Sipin wasn’t always polluted. Some locals said that in the 1980s they could easily catch fish there and even drink the water. But as the population in Legok, and Jambi at large, expanded, so did the number of people living along the five rivers that feed into the lake — ad so too did the household waste and other garbage that began to pool there.
Efforts by the government to control the pollution, such as installing nets in some of the rivers to catch the garbage, failed to stop the torrent of trash flowing in. The situation reached a critical point in 2013-2014, which was when Leni and her husband, Muhammad Ikhsan, decided to take it on themselves to initiate cleanup activities and set up a waste bank with other residents of Legok. “If it wasn’t us, who else?” Ikhsan told Mongabay Indonesia.
They started by deploying a wooden boat to go around picking up the waste, but soon realized that it wasn’t enough for the sheer volume of trash out on the water. Still, they persisted, and Leni and her team’s work eventually gained national attention, including from the government, which donated a boat to them in 2018. In 2020, they received another boat and set up a waste management facility.
Their cleanup efforts over the years have managed to relieve the lake from much of the destructive effects of the trash pollution. In 2022, the environment ministry awarded Leni its Kalpataru award, the government’s highest accolade for eco-defenders.
“But, it’s still not optimal because it’s just the six of us in the team. We also need another boat,” Leni said.
Lake Sipin is considered to have high potential for freshwater fisheries, with the Indonesian government looking to boost its aquaculture sector, according to experts from the University of Jambi. Locals also depend on the lake’s water to meet their household needs, and on the lake itself for transportation, recreation and some fish-farming.
“Trash certainly affects the quality of water and pollutes it. If the waste is left uncontrolled, then Lake Sipin is no longer attractive,” said Tedjo Sukmono, a scientist from the university’s biology department.
Indonesia has announced a plan to restore 15 deteriorating lakes across the country by 2024. (Sipin isn’t included.) The government says the lakes have long 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. 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 the strategies laid out 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.
NGOs and community groups have also carried out cleanup efforts in their local lakes and rivers. Indonesian biologist Prigi Arisandi leads a movement to tackle the dumping of millions of disposable diapers into rivers across Indonesia’s Java Island every year.
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