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West Papua: A history of exploitation -Opinion – Al Jazeera English

West Papua was taken over by Indonesia in 1969, and a legacy of oppression and environmental devastation has followed.
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The Grasberg mine has damaged surrounding river systems, such as the Ajikwa river above [West Papua Media]

Investing in conflict-affected and high-risk areas is a growing concern for responsible businesses and investors. Companies based in developed countries often operate in lesser-developed foreign markets, where governance standards are lax, corruption is high and business practices are poor.

These pieces focus on one specific Anglo-Australian company and their American partner that jointly operate a mine in West Papua, one of the poorest provinces of Indonesia. The risks for the company include the potential to contribute to environmental and social damage in a foreign market. The risks for investors include financing a company that does not get its risk management right.

This is the second chapter of a four-part essay that examines how the Norwegian Pension Fund came to blacklist the mining giant Rio Tinto. The first part can be found here.

Part 2: A history of exploitation

New Guinea, geographically as well as historically, is Australia’s closest relative. Separated from the mainland during the last glacial period, the waters filled in what now separates them: about 152km of the Torres Strait.

While Australia and New Guinea both have enviable mineral stores, economic and political exploitation has left the latter as home to many of the poorest people on Earth. New Guinea is also an island of two histories.

The eastern half forms the independent state of Papua New Guinea – a status it has enjoyed since breaking from Australia in 1975. With its natural resources of oil and industrial metals, Papua New Guinea has long been exploited for its minerals at places like Ok Tedi and Bougainville.

Both projects ended in social and environmental disaster. The environmental impact of Ok Tedi was so great that, in 1999, Paul Anderson, then chief executive of Australian mining company BHP, conceded that the mine was “not compatible with our environmental values”. But it did serve the company’s pursuit of profit. It was not until the Ok Tedi environmental disaster three years later that the true impact of BHP’s mining practices came to the attention of the global public. BHP subsequently sold its interest, established a fund to restore the sustainable development of the affected people, and received immunity from further prosecution.

The western half of New Guinea has had a lesser-known but equally tragic history centred around the Jayawijaya Mountain, home to the Amungme, and farther downstream, the Kamoro people. As with much of East Asia, the indigenes were under Dutch rule when a geological expedition in 1936 located a significant ertsberg (ore mountain) deep in the southwestern highlands. World War II intervened, and the Japanese claimed Indonesia and some of the western parts of New Guinea.Following defeat in the war, the Japanese were marshalled back to their home territory, and Dutch colonialism resumed. Importantly, when Indonesian independence was obtained from the Dutch in 1949, few knew of the ertsberg (mineral ore) hidden deep in West Papua’s wilderness.The Dutch began a ten-year Papuanisation programme in 1957 that would see West Papua handed back to the indigenes, and would create the independent state of West Papua around 1972.Despite multiple territorial claims, the ore mountain lay dormant for over 20 years.On March 6, 1959, the New York Times reported the presence of alluvial gold in the Arafura Sea just off the coast of West Papua. Reminded of their earlier discovery, Dutch geologists were said to be returning to the ore mountain, now simply known as Ertsberg.Independence deniedThe indigenes, meanwhile, as part of their programme toward independence, established a Papuan National Council and provisional government as well as their own military, police force, currency, national anthem, and flag. At the time, West Papua’s independence was due before the United Nations Decolonisation Commission, and representatives took part in various cultural and political activities throughout the region. By December 1, 1961, the West Papuan “Morning Star” flag had been raised alongside the Dutch for the first time. Many assumed that independence was imminent.Unbeknown to both the indigenes and the Dutch, US mining company Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold was negotiating directly with Suharto – at the time an Indonesian army general – for a small group of its experts to prospect this ore mountain. The path into West Papua through Suharto promised to be fruitful for Freeport, since its board was stacked with the Rockefeller’s Indonesian oil interests who already were versed in the general’s way of doing business. An exploration agreement was reached, and soon after a geologist from Freeport was forging his way through the wilderness toward Ertsberg.West Papua was about to change hands again.Armed with Chinese and Soviet weapons, as well as an increasingly public friendship with the communists, Indonesia declared war on the Netherlands. To protect Western interests from the threat of communism, on August 15, 1962, the United Nations and the United States orchestrated a meeting between Dutch and Indonesian officials during which interim control of West Papua was signed over to Indonesia.Six years of UN interregnum followed, after which a plebiscite would decide whether to form a separate nation or integrate into Indonesia. All 815,000 West Papuans were to vote in an Act of Free Choice.To ensure a favourable outcome, the Indonesians worked to suppress Papuan identity. Raising the West Papuan flag and singing of the national anthem were banned, and all political activities were deemed subversive. Indonesia ruled through force, for self-interest. Alarmed by ongoing media reports, on April 5, 1967, in the British House of Lords, Lord Ogmore called for a UN investigation. By early 1968, with Suharto having assumed the presidency of Indonesia, a US consular visit almost unanimously agreed that “Indonesia could not win an open election” in West Papua.West Papua still wanted its independence.In a desperate attempt to secure West Papua’s right to self-determination, two junior politicians crossed the border into Australian-administered Papua and New Guinea on May 29, 1969. They carried damning evidence of Indonesian repression; the hopes of a yet-unformed nation rested on the politicians reaching the UN. As Australia and its allies were amenable to Indonesian control of West Papua, the two were imprisoned upon crossing the border until after the referendum. Their brave plea was silenced.Between July and August 1969, less than a quarter of one per cent of the population – some 1,026 West Papuans – signed the country’s freedom over to Indonesia. The election, held under the aegis of the UN, was far from an act of free choice. The following day West Papua was declared a military operation zone, the local people’s movement was restricted, and expression of their national identity banned under Indonesian law.Poor, neglected West Papua.Selling West PapuaControl of West Papua proved a lucrative business deal for the Indonesians. Two years prior to the Act of Free Choice – coincidentally on the same day the plight of Papua was raised in the House of Lords – Freeport signed a contract of work with the Suharto government entitling a jointly owned company, PT Freeport Indonesia (Freeport-Indonesia), full rights to the Ertsberg mine. In return, Indonesia would derive significant tax revenues and fees as well as a minority 9.36 per cent shareholding. Without the authority to do so, Indonesia nevertheless cut itself into a deal that sold large tracts of West Papua to the US company, intent on sifting it for copper and gold.Although Ertsberg fulfilled its promise, as production slowed in the mid-1980s, Freeport-Indonesia began to explore surrounding mountains and ridges for other reserves. As is often the case, the best place to establish a new mine is next to another. Sure enough, significant copper and gold reserves were located at Grasberg only a couple of miles southwest of Ertsberg.Grasberg has the largest recoverable reserves of copper and gold in the world. It’s also Indonesia’s economic beachhead.Observing the Grasberg mine via Google Earth, one sees a scar like no other: Located about 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level, open-pit (above ground) mining has bored a hole through the top of the mountain more than half a mile (1 km) wide. What they’re digging for is more than $40bn worth of copper and gold. Every day the operation discharges 230,000 tons of tailings (waste rock) into the Aghawagon River. This process is expected to continue for up to six more years, at which point exploration will go underground until there’s no value left. Freeport estimates that will occur by 2041.The operation is so large that it has shifted the borders of the adjacent Lorenz National Park. Listed as a World Heritage site by the UN’s Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1999, the park is “the only protected area in the world to incorporate a continuous, intact transect from snowcap to tropical marine environment, including extensive lowland wetlands”. For the Amungme and Kamoro indigenes, corporate imperialism had replaced European colonialism.The ramifications are both environmental and social.‘Slow-motion genocide’The social and economic condition of the indigenous Amungme and Kamoro poses fundamental human rights concerns. Although Freeport-Indonesia directly or indirectly employs a large number of West Papuans and is regularly Indonesia’s biggest taxpayer, in 2005, the World Bank found that Papua remained the poorest province in Indonesia. With a marked rise in military personnel and foreign staff has come a number of social issues, including alcohol abuse and prostitution such that Papua now has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in Indonesia.Indonesian control of West Papua has been characterised by the ongoing and disproportionate repression of largely peaceful opposition. Few sustained violent interactions have occurred; however, in one major conflict in 1977, more than 1,000 civilian men, women, and children were killed by the Indonesian military in Operasi Tumpas (“Operation Annihilation”) after a slurry pipe was severed and partially closed the Ertsberg mine.More recently, in 1995, the Australian Council for Overseas Aid reported that the Indonesian army and security forces killed 37 people involved in protests over the mine in the preceding seven-month period. While the level of violence is difficult to establish, academics at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney maintain that up to 100,000 West Papuans may have been killed since Indonesian occupation. They call what’s happening to West Papua “slow-motion genocide”.There are also two primary environmental concerns over Grasberg. The first is that the mine discharges 230,000 tons of waste rock a day into surrounding waterways; given the escalating rate of processing, this rate is arguably above that allowed by national law. Secondly, acid rock drainage – the outflow of acidic water – has resulted from the disposal of a further 360,000 to 510,000 tons a day of overburden and waste rock in two adjacent valleys covering 4 miles (6.5 km), up to 975 feet (300 metres) deep. The mine operators dispute both claims.Riverine methods of waste disposal are banned in every developed country on Earth. The World Bank no longer funds projects that operate this way, due to the irreversible ecological devastation, and the International Finance Corporation requires that rock be treated prior to disposal, which is not a practice carried out at Grasberg. Since the mid-1990s, a number of independent environmental assessments have found unacceptably high levels of toxicity and sediment as far as 140 miles away.Freeport and Rio Tinto maintain that riverine tailings disposal is the best solution, given the difficult terrain, the threat of earthquakes, and heavy rainfall.Grasberg’s reserves are so vast that extracting them is expected to create 6 billion tons of industrial waste.President Suharto, who is now recognised as one of the most corrupt and tyrannical leaders in history, renewed Freeport-Indonesia’s exclusive mining rights in 1991 for a further 30 years with an option of two 10-year extensions. The license included an option to prospect another 6.5 million acres (2.6 million hectares), as far as the Papua New Guinea border. “The potential is only limited by the imagination,” Freeport’s chairman, James Moffett, remarked to shareholders in March 1995. “Every other mining company wants to get into Irian Jaya [West Papua]. Bougainville and Ok Tedi don’t hold a candle to Grasberg.”Part 3 to follow next week.This is an extract of a chapter from the book, Evolutions in Sustainable Investing: Strategies, Funds and Thought Leadership, to be published by Wiley in December 2011. NAJ Taylor is a PhD candidate in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland, and casual lecturer in the Faculty of Law and Management at La Trobe University.Follow NAJ Taylor on Twitter: @najtaylordotcomThe views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.Related articles

BHP Billiton acknowledged that its mine at Ok Tedi was ‘not compatible with our environmental values’ [GALLO/GETTY]
“Grasberg’s reserves are so vast that extracting them is expected to create 6 billion tons of industrial waste.”

SMH: Chipping away at paradise (Report on Australian mining in Raja Ampat)

http://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/chipping-away-at-paradise-20110701-1gv3s.html

Tom Allard

July 2, 2011

Turquoise waters ... the Kawe Island coral reef.Turquoise waters … the Kawe Island coral reef.

Australia’s lust for minerals threatens a marine wilderness, writes Tom Allard in Jakarta.

About once a month, a ship from Townsville makes the long journey to Raja Ampat, a seascape of astonishing beauty and diversity.

In the far western reaches of the island of New Guinea, where the westerly currents of the Pacific flow into the Indian Ocean, hundreds of improbable, domed limestone pinnacles rise from the sea, encircling placid, turquoise lagoons.

Fjord-like bays cut deep into the hinterland of mountainous islands, framed by vertiginous jungle-clad cliffs that drop steeply into the water. There are oceanic atolls, shallow bays with fine white sand beaches, snaking rivers and mangrove swamps.

Wayag Island is one of the islands within the Raja Ampat district in the province of West Papua. The island is known for its beautiful atolls and amazing underwater life covering a total area of 155,000 hectares. Click for more photos

The beauty of Raja Ampat

Wayag Island is one of the islands within the Raja Ampat district in the province of West Papua. The island is known for its beautiful atolls and amazing underwater life covering a total area of 155,000 hectares.

  • Wayag Island is one of the islands within the Raja Ampat district in the province of West Papua. The island is known for its beautiful atolls and amazing underwater life covering a total area of 155,000 hectares.
  • Even though this photo was taken in southern Raja this scene could easily be from Wayag. Photo: Jones/Shimlock
  • Beautiful scenery at Raja Ampat. Photo: Jones/Shimlock.
  • A turtle at Raja Ampat. Photo: Jones/Shimlock.
  • A wrasse in the waters of Raja Ampat. Photo: Jones/Shimlock.
  • A typical bommie in northern Raja Ampat. Photo: Jones/Shimlock
  • Local children enjoying the reef in front of their village. Photo: Jones/Shimlock.
  • Schooling anthias (basslets) at Raja Ampat. Photo: Jones/Shimlock
  • Two bannerfish. Photo: Jones/Shimlock.
  • Even though these animals are from a region just south of Kawe, mantas are often seen at Eagle Rock a Kawe Island divesite. Photo: Jones/Shimlock.
  • A school of fish poses for the camera. Photo: Jones/Shimlock.
  • The sweetlip is a signature species in northern Raja. Photo: Jones/Shimlock

If the numerous islands and countless shoals and reefs of Raja Ampat take the breath away, they only hint at the treasures below. This remote part of West Papua province in Indonesia is the world’s underwater Amazon, the hub of the world’s marine biodiversity, home to 75 per cent of its coral and 1500 fish species, including huge manta rays; epaulette sharks that walk on the sea floor with their fins; turtles and an array of weird and wonderful fish.Yet the vessel that makes the regular trip to and from Townsville does not bring tourists or divers. There are no scientists on board to study this marine wonderland.

Rather, the vessel carries tens of thousands of tons of the red clay soil, rich in nickel and cobalt, which is destined for the Yabulu refinery owned by one of Australia’s richest men, Clive Palmer.

Sediment run-off from mining on Kawe Island.Sediment run-off from mining on Kawe Island.

Conservationists and marine scientists say this mining activity and the prospect of more exploitation puts one of the world’s most precious ecosystems under threat.

As the environment is imperilled, the impact on local communities has been devastating. Once close-knit villages are divided as competing mining companies offer financial inducements to residents for support. And, in a sadly familiar tale for the Papua region, where separatist sentiments linger, the benefits of exploiting its resources are largely flowing outside the region. Derisory royalties go to landowners and minuscule salaries are paid to locals who gain employment.

”I’m appalled by what’s going on,” says Charlie Veron, the former chief scientist from the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, who has surveyed the region on many occasions.

Sediment from mining.Sediment from mining.

”If you had a rainforest with the most diverse range of species in the world and people started mining there without doing any kind of proper environmental impact study, there would quite rightly be outrage … Well, that’s what’s happening here.”

The vessels sent to collect the nickel and cobalt for Palmer’s Queensland Nickel company dock at Manuran Island, where the mining has continued unabated despite a decree by the West Papua governor, Abraham Atururi, banning all mining activity in Raja Ampat.

”The mining started in 2006. There were protests but the military and police came and they stopped them,” says Yohannis Goram, from Yayasan Nazareth, a local group that opposes mining.

The operator of the mine, PT Anugerah Surya Pratama (PT ASP), has promised environmental safeguards, but according to one local from nearby Rauki village they are ineffective.

”When it rains the sea turns red and sometimes even yellow,” a village elder says in a phone interview. ”The runoff is supposed to go into a hole but they come out [into the sea].”

Yosias Kein hails from Kapidiri, another island near Manuran that claims customary ownership. ”The mining waste damaged the coastal areas and covered up the coral reefs. Besides, it is difficult for people to get fish now. Fishermen in Kabare village, also in Rauki village, saw the waste went down into the seas near Manuran. Now they have to go fishing a bit further to the east or west.”

The strip mining for nickel leaves the landscape barren and the steep cliffs of Raja Ampat’s islands mean heavy rainfall overwhelms the drainage systems and sends the heavy soil into the water.

The impact is twofold and ”really nasty” for coral, Veron says. ”Sedimentation sinks on to the coral and smothers it. But worse is ‘clay fraction’, where very fine particles are suspended in the water, blocking the sunlight.”

Photos taken from Manuran and supplied to the Herald show murky water and dead coral after heavy rain.

PT ASP, based in Jakarta, owns PT Anugrah Surya Indotama (PT ASI), another mining outfit that operates on Kawe Island in Raja Ampat, despite a court order to desist due to a conflict over mining rights with a West Papua-based company.

The ultimate ownership of the companies are a mystery, although West Papua is rife with speculation that senior politicians and military figures have a stake in them. That is easy to understand, as the Jakarta firm seems to have extraordinary pull at the highest levels of government in Jakarta and Raja Ampat.

The rival mining company PT Kawei Sejahtera Mining (PT KSM) is owned by a local man, Daniel Daat. When it began loading its first shipload of nickel at Kawe in 2008, PT ASI, which also claims a mining licence for Kawe, complained. Three gunships and a plane were deployed to stop the consignment and Daat was thrown into prison.

The mines at Manuran and Kawe are guarded by military and police who locals say are on the company payroll. And while 15 mining companies have been pushed out of Raja Ampat after the governor’s decree, PT ASP and PT ASI have stayed.

Korinus Ayelo is the village chief of Selpele, which has customary ownership of Kawe, and supports Daat’s PT KSM. But PT ASI engineered the highly contested elevation of another chief, Benyamin Arempele, who endorsed its right to mine. Repeated legal cases have found in favour of Daat, but PT ASI continues to develop its mine and conduct exploration.

”They are still working today, guarded by the police,” Ayelo says. Villagers who were previously close now don’t talk to each other.

”There’s a distance between our hearts,” he continues. ”The people are uneasy. PT ASI uses the military. There are TNI [armed forces] everywhere. People must face the presence of TNI every day.”

Daat says high level political and military support from Jakarta is behind PT ASI’s continued operations. ”It is impossible to get such support for nothing. I believe the profits from Manuran Island are shared by several parties, parties that support this company. I won this case at the district court, at the provincial court and at the Supreme Court. How great is the Indonesian law system? They are still in Kawe doing exploitation despite the court’s rulings.”

At the very least, the two companies appear to have a cavalier approach to doing business in Raja Ampat. Police documents obtained by the Herald reveal the company allegedly bribed the bupati (regency head) of Raja Ampat, Marcus Wanma, to gain mining licences.

Wanma was paid $36,000 to issue the licences in 2004, and a further $23,270 for ”entertainment” purposes, the report said, citing police interviews with 16 witnesses, including Wanma’s staff and Yos Hendri, a director of PT ASI and PT ASP.

The report finds that about 670 million rupiah (then worth about $122,000) was paid to Wanma in 2004 for nine mining licences and only 197 million rupiah deposited in the regency’s bank accounts.

”The rest of the 500 million was used for the personal interest of [official] Oktovanius Mayor and Marcus Wanma” the report says.

Wanma escaped prosecution and remains the regency head. He has been incapacitated with a serious illness and is believed to be recuperating in Singapore. He was unavailable for interview and Raja Ampat officials declined to comment.

Whether the licences were corruptly obtained or not, the sum paid for them is derisory.

The open-cut mining undertaken on Manuran is cheap and low tech. After clearing the vegetation, workers simply dig up the soil, haul it into trucks and take it to the docks, where it is sent for processing to extract pure nickel, used in stainless steel. The mine’s wharf is nothing more than a tethered barge with no cranes. Costs for the company consist of little more than maintaining about 40 trucks, heavy moving equipment and the simple wharf.

Villagers and employees say most of the mine’s labourers earn between $170 and $200 a month. Customary landowners receive a royalty, but an investigation by the Herald has discovered that it is tiny.

Soleman Kein, an elder from Kapidiri, a village with customary rights over Manuran Island, says a new deal was negotiated last year increasing landowners’ share of the mine’s income from 1000 rupiah (11¢) a tonne to 1500 rupiah a tonne.

An industry expert with knowledge of Raja Ampat’s high-grade nickel laterite ore deposits says PT ASP would have been getting between $US40 ($37) and $US100 a tonne, depending on the fluctuating world price. The average would be about $US60 a tonne, he says.

At that price, a single 50,000-tonne shipload earns the miner $US3 million. The mine at Manuran Island typically sends at least two shiploads a month. On those figures, the locals are getting less than a 0.3 per cent share.

”These companies want a lot of money for not much effort,” says one miner with two decades of experience in Papua. ”They pay as little attention as they can to environmental standards and take the money and get out … The amount the locals get is pitiful.”

Hendri, a director of both PT ASI and PT ASP, pulled out of an interview at the last minute and declined to respond to detailed questions.

But one source intimate with the Manuran operation and the compensation deal says the local government gets another 3000 rupiah a tonne, and a further 2000 rupiah per tonne was devoted to infrastructure. All up, the insider says, about $200,000 has been spent on local villagers in royalties and infrastructure since 2007.

In that period the company has earned more than $150 million from sales, although between 4 per cent and 5 per cent of that revenue should flow back to the central government’s coffers.

Some of the villagers are happy with the arrangement. Soleman Kein is delighted with his new house, paid by the infrastructure fund.

”My house used to be made of sago leaves, but now the company has renovated it, our walls now are made of bricks, we have a roof made of zinc and the interior part of the house is beautifully painted,” he says.

But villagers from Rauki say only 10 of 76 homes promised in 2009 have been built. And disputes rage between clans over who gets the money offered by the company.

”Conflicts emerge because certain groups of families claim ownership of Manuran Island, while others reject their claims,” Yosias Kein says. ”Sometimes, there have been physical conflicts, sometimes an exchange of arguments. The problem is that the company does make some payments but the amount is not equal.”

The squabbles have torn apart what were once tight-knit communities. The simmering discontent is ”like a volcano” that ”will erupt one day”, one Rauki native says.

”Corporations are the ones that get the profits,” says Abner Korwa, a social worker from the Belantara charity who has tracked the mining closely. ”Once the deposit is exhausted, once it is gone, the big corporation leaves and we will be left alone with the massively damaged environment.”

Queensland Nickel has a sustainable development policy that strives for ”minimising our impact on the environment” and commits to ”pursue honest relationships” with communities. The company declined to respond to questions. ”We don’t comment on the business of our suppliers,” says Mark Kelly, Queensland Nickel’s external relations specialist.

Korwa says companies such as Queensland Nickel should not shirk their responsibilities for the behaviour of their suppliers, given they make considerable profits from the arrangement. ”They don’t have to invest too much in Raja Ampat. They don’t have to be troubled by mining concessions, the way business is done here,” he says. ”But they can still get the nickel”.

Oxfam Australia, which runs a mining ombudsman, says there is a clear obligation for companies that process raw minerals to be held accountable for their suppliers.

Oxfam Australia’s executive director, Andrew Hewett, says: ”Australian companies need to make sure that they are only buying minerals from other companies that respect workers’ rights, community rights and the environment. If there’s a good reason to believe that a supplier is causing harm, the company should undertake a thorough assessment.

”If any issues are found, the company should in the first instance work with the supplier to try to rectify the problem. If this doesn’t work, the company should reconsider its business relationship with the supplier.”

Queensland Nickel should be well aware of the issues in Raja Ampat.

It bought the Yabulu refinery from BHP Billiton in 2009 when the mining giant pulled out of Raja Ampat, selling its mining rights for the region’s Gag Island, amid concern about the ecological and social impacts of mining. The simmering discontent is not restricted to the villages around Manuran, but is ripping apart others that have been the custodians of Raja Ampat’s wonders for centuries, nourishing the sea and jungle with animist ceremonies.

For them Raja Ampat – literally Four Kings – was created by eggs that descended from heaven to rest in the water.

Many villagers and conservationists want mining stopped at Kawe and throughout Raja Ampat.

Kawe has huge environmental significance. It is close to the stunning Wayag archipelago of karst limestone pinnacles and hosts 20 world class diving sites, as well as breeding grounds for green and hawksbill turtles, and shark pupping grounds.

Photos obtained by the Herald show earlier mining activity at Kawe led to the heavy red soils flushing into the sea, covering the reefs, a problem that will get worse once full operations resume.

Dr Mark Erdmann, a senior adviser to Conservation International’s marine program in Indonesia, says: ”We are very concerned about the potential for sedimentation and metal deposits to be transported by Kawe’s strong currents and moved up to Wayag and down to Aljui Bay.”

Raja Ampat is theoretically protected by seven marine parks and a shark conservation zone. Controls on illegal fishing are actively enforced, but land-based threats such as mining on nearby islands continues unabated.

Indonesia’s government has recognised the extraordinary habitats in Raja Ampat. It put the region on the ”tentative list” to become a UNESCO world heritage area, like the Great Barrier Reef, in 2005. But the application has stalled due to government inaction. Many suspect that is because it wants to exploit the area’s natural resources through mining and logging.

In a deeply worrying development for conservationists, nickel and oil exploration restarted this year after the local government issued new exploration permits

Raja Ampat’s significance to the world is immense. It is the heart of the famed coral triangle and the strong currents that rush between its islands help seed much of the 1.6 billion hectares of reefs and marine life that spreads from the Philippines across to the Solomon Islands.

”There is tremendous wealth in the natural environment from fishing, pearling and tourism,” Erdmann says, citing a State University of Papua survey that found the long-term benefits from these eco-friendly economic activities outweighed the short-term gains from mining.

”Mining and this precious, pristine eco-system can’t coexist in the long term.”

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/chipping-away-at-paradise-20110701-1gv3s.html#ixzz1QrbX0MHv