20 March 2023

Stories of Environmental Crime Investigation Journalists in Indonesia’s Maritime and Coastal Areas

Six journalists are hailed as champions of investigative reporting on environmental crimes. Operating in the “gray zone,” one of them had to go undercover to obtain accurate data and evidence.

On the island of Batuwingkung, Sangihe, North Sulawesi, Ronny Adolf Buol embarked on an investigation into illegal shark fishing practices. Joining local fishermen at sea, he observed the mostly surface longline method of shark capture. The largest catch was a sawshark.

His pursuit didn’t stop there. The zonautara.com journalist traced the distribution route of the illegal meat. He eventually found the answer: the shark meat was being sold in Manalu and Petta, major fish landing points in Sangihe.

Lokakarya “Championing Environmental Crime Reporting in Indonesia, 2021-2023” di Perpustakaan Nasional, Jakarta Pusat pada 20 Maret 2023.

Petta serves as a convergence point for sailors from the Philippines and Indonesia. “In Petta, the highest quality shark fins are sold for up to IDR 1.45 million per kilogram,” he continued, “and I didn’t find any supervision from relevant authorities there.” In his presentation, he mentioned the limited personnel of the Coastal and Marine Resources Management Center (BPSPL) Makassar, with none stationed in Sangihe.

His story aligns with the coverage by Abdus Somad, a jaring.id journalist. Venturing into the northern coastal areas of Java Island, Abdus discovered the capture of several protected shark and ray species.

“In the coastal areas, the issue of sharks and rays is quite sensitive. Once we ‘enter’ and identify ourselves as journalists, we will be driven away,” Abdus stated in his presentation. In order to gather supporting data for his report, Abdus eventually went undercover: posing as a fisherman, a fish carrier, and a prospective buyer of catches.

“Otherwise, we investigative journalists wouldn’t get anything,” he added.


The Shrinking Mangrove Forests in Eastern Indonesia

Tantowi Djauhari fell silent for a moment. He sighed and wiped the area under his eyes before saying, “the mangrove forests in Bintuni are already damaged.”

The mangrove forest in Teluk Bintuni, West Papua, spans 228,419 hectares. Its area constitutes 52% of the entire mangrove forest area in West Papua.

Now, according to Tantowi, “the Bintuni mangrove forest is steadily shrinking.” In his reporting, he found several causes, including the role of concession companies failing to reforest or the unchecked illegal logging by locals in protected zones. “Yet the Bintuni mangrove forest is longed for as the lungs of West Papua,” Tantowi remarked.

The decline of the mangrove forest was also found by Alfonsa Jumkon Wayap. Conducting an in-depth coverage in the mangrove forest area of Teluk Youtefa, Jayapura, the capital of Papua. “Socially and traditionally, the mangrove forest in Teluk Youtefa serves as the livelihood source for local women,” said Alfonsa.

Previously, local indigenous women would collect clams and crabs in Teluk Youtefa during the fishing season. This activity usually took place from March to August. The harvested clams and crabs, up to eight buckets per person, would then be stored in pits under their homes. Eventually, towards the end of the year, these clams and crabs would be cooked as a substitute for fish when their husbands were not fishing.

“Such was the way before, not anymore now,” Alfonsa stated. The Teluk Youtefa mangrove forest has begun to deteriorate. Development has left debris entangled in the mangrove roots. Clams have died off.


Sailing with Small-Scale Fishermen

Accompanying fishermen at sea and armed with coordinate notebooks, Yogi Eka Sahputra discovered damaged coral reefs in non-disputed waters in Natuna. Some fishermen also lamented a decrease of around 50% in their catches at these coordinates.

“We overlaid the fishermen’s findings with IOJI’s analysis,” Yogi said in his presentation. Satellite observations conducted by IOJI revealed the presence of Vietnamese fishing vessels around the local fishermen’s recorded coordinates.

Meanwhile, Tempo contributor Irsyan Hasyim Inding investigated the potential “seeds of conflict in the tuna route” in Bitung, North Sulawesi. His coverage began with 51 crew members being laid off, following the revocation of their fishing vessel permits by the Directorate General of Marine and Fisheries Resources Surveillance.

He also covered the waters of Halmahera. There, large vessels encroached on the territory of small-scale fishermen. “Our findings in these two places indicate several violations, including labor issues, which have intertwined regulations until now,” Irsyan remarked.

These six journalists are champions of investigative reporting in a collaboration between KBR, Environmental Justice Foundation, Environmental Reporting Collective, and Tempo Institute. Their presentations on the investigative reporting process across various Indonesian marine areas took place in the workshop “Championing Environmental Crime Reporting in Indonesia, 2021-2023” at the National Library, Central Jakarta on March 20th last year.


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