Environment Treasures to be Lost at Gag Island, PapuaPublished by MAC on 2001-05-01
Environment Treasures to be Lost at Gag Island, Papua
Jakarta, Indonesia (March 19-25 2002, Tempo Magazine/Kabar-Irian)
Gag Island has an undersea paradise. The diminutive island of 56 square kilometers (22.4 square miles) is one of the hundreds of islets of the Raja Empat archipelago in the Bird's Head region of Irian Jaya (Papua). Last year, an expedition called the Marine Rapid Assessment Program discovered 900 coral fish species, 600 kinds of mollusks and 450 coral varieties in the waters of the island, home to around 600 people.
According to researchers with Conservation International (CI), the biological diversity in Gag's waters is among the richest in the world. It is even more diverse than that of the Palau archipelago in the Pacific, so far recognized as the globe's underwater wonder. Unsurprisingly, CI has proposed that Raja Empat be made part of the world's natural treasures, and that development of Gag Island adhere first to the principles of nature conservation. It can be sustainably managed, for instance, for research or tourism purposes. But the island must not be exploited.
Nevertheless, Gag's fate will drastically change because the government sees things differently. Through an integrated, inter-departmental team, it seems that PT Gag Nikel Indonesia has gotten the green light to rip the islet apart.
The big mining company -- a joint venture between BHP Billiton (Australia) and Indonesia's Aneka Tambang -- has reportedly prepared an investment worth US$ 1 billion or around Rp 10 trillion. PT Gag Nikel estimates Gag Island's nickel and cobalt deposits at 240 million metric tons. It is the world's third-highest deposit after Voisey's Bay in Canada and Goro in New Caledonia.
It will take 20 years for PT Gag Nikel to extract the huge deposits, meaning that some 33,000 metric tons of the minerals will be derived daily from 660,000 metric tons of rocks dug out of Gag. It also implies that 627,000 metric tons of rocks will be converted into tailings. The great amount of mining waste will just be dumped into the sea each and every day. It's hard to imagine the effect of waste dumping around the island. The diverse flora and fauna in the undersea paradise will be lost forever. Worse still, Gag's land will continue to be eroded by mining. The paradise beneath this treasure-cursed land will thus likely disappear as well.
Why not just follow the Palau archipelago's management regime? On this island republic east of the Philippines, foreign exchange worth millions of US dollars is annually earned from tourism, while its environmental conditions remain well conserved.