The rapid expansion of traditional shrimp farms in Lampung has not only damaged mangrove swamps but forced local fishermen to seek their catch in the open sea due to the scarcity of fish along the coastline.
“Since the coast is now teeming with shrimp farms, it is difficult to find fish because they have migrated to the open ocean. Lampung Bay is also full of chemical waste dumped by the traditional shrimp farmers. We have to sail out to the Indian Ocean and face large waves,” said Sukarja, 50, a fisherman from Punduh Pidada, South Lampung.
Another problem facing fishermen is an increasing need for fuel due to the greater distances they must travel.
“Diesel is costly. Many fishermen have shifted professions and become laborers and pedicab drivers. If we force ourselves to find fish, we incur losses because our earnings cannot match operational costs. Hundreds of fishermen have stopped going out to sea and shifted jobs,” said Sukarja.
Besides the growing number of shrimp farms along the coast, the Lampung Bay area has been reclaimed in the past five years to make way for a city development project on the waterfront. “The reclamation project has also affected us because we can no longer seek fish along the coast. Many traditional shrimp farmers have also converted mangrove swamps into ponds. To make matters worse, they dump chemical waste into the sea,” said Sukarja.
Herza Yulianto, director of the Mitra Bentala environmental group, said the use of chemicals to maintain the acidity level of sea water was to blame for the damage to marine life, such as coral reefs and fish. The damage to the marine environment has threatened the existence of established resources in Lampung Bay, known for its ideal snorkeling and diving.
“Mangrove logging has not only taken place in the Lampung Bay area, but virtually every coastal area in Lampung, thus receding the coastline at an average of 500 meters,” said Herza. Lampung is home to 69 large and smaller islands, and its coastline stretches 1,105 kilometers, making it the longest in Sumatra.
Traditional shrimp farms have been expanding along Lampung’s coastline at an alarming rate over the past five years. The impact has not only depleted mangrove forests but farmers have also converted their farmland areas into shrimp ponds.
Consequently, farmers in a number of districts in South Lampung often experience harvest failure due to leeching from nearby damaged mangrove swamps.
Suparno, 50, a resident from Bandaragung village, South Lampung, said mangrove swamps once spanned more than three kilometers along the coast about a decade ago. “Mangrove areas have become sparse in the past five years because they have been cleared by outsiders. As a result, seawater seeps into our farms,” said Suparno. “We are forced to convert our farms into shrimp ponds. Now, 90 percent of the farmland here has been converted,” he said.
Data from the Lampung branch of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) indicates that 70 percent of mangrove forests in Lampung have been damaged as a result of shrimp farming. Of the total 160,000 hectares of mangroves, 136,000 are considered damaged.
The worst-hit areas are in the traditional shrimp farming regions in the South and East Lampung regencies, where mangrove trees have been unnecessarily cleared to open shrimp farms and build squatter accommodation.
The mangrove forests in Ketapang and Sragi districts in South Lampung, and Pasir Sakti and Kuala Penet in East Lampung, which once spanned 100 and 300 meters from the coastline a year ago, are now virtually barren, ranging less than 10 meters.
In South Lampung’s coastal areas, remnants of mangrove stubs can still be seen. The area has now overrun by shrimp farmers from Banten, West Java, and Central Java.
Data from the Lampung Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Office shows there are 1.9 million hectares of mangrove forests along the Lampung coast. Data from the Fishery Office suggests as much as 736,000 ha, or 60 percent, have been severely damaged.
Lampung Walhi director Hendrawan said the destruction of the mangroves had not exclusively been caused by the expansion of shrimp farms, but was also due to the lack of willingness on the part of the provincial administration to maintain their existence.
“The central government has distributed tens of billions of rupiah to the cause, but nothing has come of it. Environment groups and the local community have however expressed interest in regenerating the area,” said Hendrawan.