Two Indonesian islands vanish, more may sink

Climate change-driven rising sea levels particularly threaten archipelagic countries like Indonesia, where millions of people currently live in low-lying coastal areas. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Two small islands in South Sumatra have disappeared as a result of rising sea levels driven by climate change, while four other islands are already on the brink of vanishing, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) has claimed.

The province's Betet Island and Gundul Island, which technically fell under the administration of Banyuasin regency, have submerged and are currently sitting 1m and 3m below sea level, respectively, according to Walhi data.

"These islands were uninhabited. One of the islands, Betet, is a part of Berbak-Sembilang National Park," Walhi South Sumatra executive director Hairul Sobri said on Tuesday (Jan 14).

Should there be no significant efforts to address the ever-rising oceans, four other islands in the area with elevations of less than 4m above sea level could follow suit sooner or later, Mr Hairul said.

The four are Burung Island, which is currently at sea level; Kalong Island and Salah Namo Island, both of which are currently 2m above sea level; and Kramat Island, which is 3m above sea level.

According to Walhi, there are currently 23 small islands located off the eastern coast of South Sumatra's Banyuasin. Some of the islands are uninhabited, while some including Salah Namo Island have people living on them.

Climate change-driven rising sea levels, which come with further warming of the earth, particularly threaten archipelagic countries like Indonesia, where millions of people currently live in low-lying coastal areas spread across some 17,000 islands.

Mr Syahrul, head of the neighbourhood unit in Salah Namo Island, said they already knew the rising seas could submerge their island.

People who lived on the island have moved their houses tens of metres away from their original place where their houses were first built, he said.

Mr Syahrul said most residents moved to the island in 1970 to have a better life by planting rice and becoming fishermen. Back in 1990, there were large fields in front of houses, 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 head of Berbak-Sembilang National Park Area II, Mr Affan Absori, confirmed separately that Betet Island had gone underwater and that the island had experienced sinking for some time.

Berbak-Sembilang National Park, which was declared a world biosphere reserve in 2018 by Unesco, is home to mangrove areas amd is rich in flora and fauna, including the Sumatran tiger and kingfisher birds.

"It has sunk because the sea level has risen and because of the tsunami. But there is no significant disruption for the animals," Mr Affan said yesterday.

According to Walhi, a tropical country like Indonesia is more vulnerable to the effects of global warming, especially in South Sumatra where people depend on coal, oil and natural gas, thus contributing to emissions of greenhouse gases.

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