Thursday, October 3, 2013

News from our Turtle Conservation Project in Berau, Indonesia

From Dr. Hiltrud Cordes, Project Manager/ October 2, 2013: 


Dear turtle friends,

last week I arrived in the town Tanjung Redeb, capital of Berau regency in East Kalimantan, where the head office of our project is based. We had a very good start with introducing a  new accounting software. Our office staff Rachmad and Vera (carefully supervised by „best boy“ Aang) find the new software very handy and easy to understand.

Since we have a guest room at the office, I am living there, too. Early this morning around 4 a.m. I woke up because of a heavy thunderstorm, but since the sound of rain makes me sleepy anyway, I fall asleep again soon. Aang woke me up an hour later (it was still dark), shouting „banjiiiir“, meaning ‚flooding‘ in indonesian. I got up quickly and found myself standing in water. Using the tourches of our mobile phones, the first thing we did, was unplug all electric devices and lift them from the floor. It was still raining and daylight was still dim at around 6.30 a.m. This is what I saw:

The water was slowy running from the street through our house, with a water level of about 30 centimeters (12 inches). Since there was not much we could do anyway, I took some photos of the traffic in front of our house which was more or less „business as usual“:

Office work will now stop for some days until everything is dry and clean again. I was evacuated into a nearby hotel. We rented this office last year with a contract until september 2014. The house was flooded two times before, but water level was much lower then. Since it is common in Indonesia to pay the contract of a house in advance without any possibility to get the money back, we have to stay in this office for another year – unless we want to lose our money.

Flooding like this is a quite new phenomenon in Tanjung Redeb. A heavy rainfall of about 2 hours, in combination with high tide,is enough to flood the lower parts of the town. Newer houses in these areas are now built on elevated construction.

The reason why these floodings occur now is quite clear and everybody knows it. Destruction of the forests for palm oil plantations and coal mining results in rainwater not being held back by the vegetation, but running on the surface into the river systems. The natural drainage system is not able to deal with such amounts of water anymore.

I have been flying to Berau for 13 years now, always trying to take areal pictures when approaching the airport of Tanjung Redeb, if weather conditions are good enough. Here are two pictures of the same region – 2004 and 2013:

Sediments washed into the ocean as a result of this development have already reached the coral reefs of the Derawan islands. We therefore have to work hand in hand with our colleagues who are working for conservation of the tropical rainforests. I hope with programs such as REDD+ we will be able to make a change!