Two small islands in southern Sumatra have disappeared as a result of rising sea levels driven by climate change, while four other islands are already on the verge of disappearance, said the Indonesia Environment Forum (Walhi).
Betet Island in the province and Gundul Island técn that technically fell under the administration of the Banyuasin Regency ─ have now submerged, located 1 meter and 3 meters below sea level, respectively, according to Walhi data.
“These islands were uninhabited. One of the islands, Betet, is part of the Berbak-Sembilang National Park,” Walhi South Sumatra chief executive Hairul Sobri said Tuesday.
If no significant efforts are made to address the constantly increasing oceans, four other islands in the area with elevations of less than 4 meters above sea level could follow suit and disappear sooner or later, Hairul said.
The four are Burung Island, whose elevation is currently at sea level; Kalong Island and Salah Namo Island, both currently located 2 meters above sea level; and Kramat Island, which is 3 meters above sea level.
According to Walhi, there are currently 23 small islands located off the east coast of Banyuasin, in southern Sumatra. Some of the islands are uninhabited, while some ─ including Salah Namo Island ─ have people living in them.
The rising sea level caused by climate change, which comes with greater warming of the land, especially threatens archipelagic countries such as Indonesia, where millions of people currently live in low-lying coastal areas spread over some 17,000 islands.
Syahrul, head of the neighborhood unit on Salah Namo Island, said they already knew that rising seas could submerge their island.
People who lived on the island have moved their homes tens of meters from their original place where their first houses were built, he said.
Syahrul said that most residents moved to the island in 1970 to have a better life by planting rice and becoming fishermen. In 1990 there were large fields in front of people’s homes where they could exercise and children could play together, but things are different now.
“There is no field in front of our houses. Many of the people have also moved from here,” he said.
The director of Area II of the Berbak-Sembilang National Park, Affan Absori, confirmed separately that Betet Island had submerged and that the island had experienced a sinking for some time.
Berbak-Sembilang National Park, which was declared a world biosphere reserve in 2018 by UNESCO, houses mangrove areas and is rich in flora and fauna, including the Sumatran tiger and kingfisher birds.
“It has sunk because the seal level has increased and the tsunami. But there is no significant interruption for animals [in the national park]”Affan told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
According to Walhi, a tropical country like Indonesia is more vulnerable to the effect of global warming, especially in southern Sumatra, where people depended heavily on coal, oil and natural gas, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. .
Other factors that have caused the sinking include the dependence of chemical fertilizers on the agricultural sector, which causes the subsidence of the land and damage to the drainage basin, as well as excessive groundwater extraction for the industry, Hairul said.
Although southern Sumatra has 1.2 million hectares of peatlands, which function as a natural carbon sink and absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, which represent approximately 15 percent of the earth’s surface, development activities, conversion of lands and forest fires have caused the peat bogs to dry out and be damaged
The South Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) recorded the area of 361,889 burned by land and forest fires in 2019, 60 percent comprised peat ecosystems.