Return of sea sand exports sparks controversy in Indonesia

JAKARTA: The government lifted a ban this month on the export of dredged sand that had been in place for more than 20 years, in a move it claims will bring in badly needed revenue but that activists say will further degrade the country’s vital marine ecosystems.

The regulation was signed by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on May 15, and took effect on the same date.

It allows mining permit holders to collect and export sea sand, provided domestic needs have been met.

The approved uses for the sand include land reclamation and private and state infrastructure development.

While miners welcomed the decision, environmentalists have slammed the policy, warning that it will lead to an increase in sand extraction, which they say will be detrimental to coastal dwellers dependent on ocean ecosystems.

“This reveals the true face of President Jokowi, who doesn’t care too much about protecting the sea and fishermen,” Parid Ridwanuddin, a spokesperson for the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Parid said sand dredging had caused a number of islands in the Thousand Islands regency north of Jakarta and the Riau Islands to disappear below the water, in addition to the 0.8 to one metre that was lost to rising seas each year.

Many more islands are now at heightened risk because of the new regulation, he added.

Sea mining also harmed marine ecosystems and drove fish from the surrounding waters, forcing local fishermen to sail further away, which would be more costly and dangerous, said Parid.

He said he expected Singapore to be one of the countries to benefit most from the policy, as demand for sand for reclamation projects was still quite high in the city-state.

Before the ban took effect in early 2007, more than 90% of Singapore’s sand imports were from Indonesia, which at that time provided the city-state with between six and eight million tonnes of sand, according to the Singaporean government.

Susi Pudjiastuti, then-Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister, wrote on Twitter that the government should revoke the policy as it would exacerbate the environmental harm of climate change.

Riau Islands’ Sea Sand Miners Association (APPL) chairman Heri Tosa told The Post on Monday that Singapore was indeed the association’s main market for sand exports.

While Indonesian exports had stopped, he said, Singapore had been importing sand from Johor Baru, Malaysia, at S$15 (RM51.10) per cubic metre.

Hong Kong, too, had been looking to import sand for a land reclamation project for its airport, he added.

The project was estimated to require some 80 million cubic metres of sand.

According to the APPL, 80 of its members are already in possession of sand extraction licences and are ready to quickly jump back into the business once the government clarifies the details of the policy shift.

“Let’s put aside the politics behind this policy. We know this country needs money and foreign exchange reserves,” Heri said.

He added that he believed the government had concluded its border dispute with Singapore, which was thought to be part of the motivation behind the previous ban. — The Jakarta Post/ANN