MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Sepang sand mining threatens locals' livelihood in Bengkulu, Sumatra

Published by MAC on 2006-06-18

Sepang sand mining threatens locals' livelihood in Bengkulu, Sumatra

Walhi

18th June 2006

Teluk Sepang's residents are restless. The sea water gets closer to their porches and the wind blows stronger. The waves used to sound remote but now they make a thundering noise. Within only six years the beach has moved closer from 200 meters away to only 25 meters from their houses. This has happened due to the sand mining activities in the area since 2000.

Teluk Sepang beach is a part of a conservation area of Taman Wisata Alam Pantai Panjang in the western coastal area of Sumatra in Bengkulu province. The area, which is protected under, among others, Forestry Ministry decree No. 383/1985 functions to protect the land from the large waves and notoriously strong winds of the Indian Ocean.

However, despite its conservation area status, two companies CV. Dua Putri and PD. Bahari Jaya exploit the sand in the bay. The sand mining causes abrasion of the coastline which happens at a considerable speed. The coast line moves closer to the hinterland and plants along the coast die.

For the first two years, locals saw nothing wrong with the mining activities; they were even involved in them. But after two years, they began to see changes they didn't like. First, they saw coast line moving inland. So they wrote a letter signed by all the residents, to the Bengkulu administration and Bengkulu Council calling on them to stop the mining.

After receiving no response, the residents took the matters into their own hands. They closed the access to the mine at Teluk Sepang village. Their action was supported by the mayor, who issued a decree to close the mine.

The mining stopped for two days, but recommenced working after the companies made a new access road. Besides threatening the future of their homes, the mining also affected the local economy. The mining activities have uprooted many trees along the shore, which now crowd the bottom of the sea. Mining has also made the sea shallower while coral reefs have died due to sand smothering. These impacts have led to dwindling fish stocks in the area.

Walhi Bengkulu made a survey of the area in February 2006. They estimated that at least 400m3 of sand is transported out of the area every day by the mining companies.

Locals who work at the mining as sand diggers confirmed the number. They said not less than 100 trucks a day were loaded with sand.

History of the sand mining

The companies which operate the mine are partners of state seaport enterprise PT Pelindo II Suaka Bahari in Bengkulu. Yon Frizal, the head of Pelindo's employee cooperative, said that the mining began in 2000. Yon said that the mine was set up by the Bengkulu Governor, Hasan Zen, to get rid of the illegal sand mining at Pelindo's area. The governor issued a license to mine sand that results from
sedimentationat Pulau Baai seaport.

However, in reality, the mined sand is not sediment from the port. The companies instead mine rough sand at Teluk Sepang, which is actually a protected area. They do it to get more profit because the sand at Pulau Baai is more powdery. Rough sand is valued higher.

Seeing profit potential, the city administration immediately followed suit. With several government institutions including BKSDA (Natural Resources Conservation Agency), the administration surveyed Teluk Sepang and later issued a license for PT Pelindo.

Yon said that his mining was legal. They have to renew the license once a year in September and last year they received the license from the Bengkulu Governor. He added that sand mining was necessary to reduce sedimentation resulting from port activities at Pulau Baai.

He added that PT Pelindo was actually not the party who got most profit. The port only got benefits from the tax paid by each truck every time they enter the port. Other vehicles also have to pay the tax. Yon said PT Pelindo did not get profit from the sand sales.

Therefore, he said PT Pelindo wouldn't mind closing the mine in the protected area. The loss from the truck tax could be compensated for by being released from having to pay property tax at the mine.

Walhi's observation concluded that mining activities at Teluk Sepang did not have a significant impact to the sedimentation at the Pulau Baai port. The sedimentation was caused not by Teluk Sepang's sand but by sand from other places that moved to the port due to currents.

BKSDA, the national conservation agency, which was supposed to protect the area, claimed that they had tried to fix the situation. They sent a letter to Bengkulu Energy and Mineral Resources Agency, questioning the license for the mining in the protected area and at the port.

BKSDA said the agency replied by saying they had never issued such license because it violated the regulations. BKSDA's attempt to fix the situation stopped there as they didn't pursue the company or provincial government any further.

Ali Akbar, Walhi Bengkulu's director, said that the sand mining in the protected area had to be stopped because it threatened the future of Teluk Sepang's residents. Not only the future, the mining has already destroyed the livelihood of the bay's fishermen. Many of them now worked as porters at the port or are jobless.

Walhi believes that if the administration and the companies do not stop the mining, all of Bengkulu will have to pay for the expensive consequences. Therefore, Walhi urges all stakeholders to meet and find a solution.

For more information, please contact:

Ali Akbar
Executive Director (WALHI Bengkulu)
Email Ali Akbar (bengkulu@walhi.or.id)

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