No location in Sulawesi is more than 100 km from the coast. Map by Rhett A. Butler
Forest condition on the island of Sulawesi. A composite of 32 Landsat images was manually classified based upon both visual inspection and the results from several remote-sensing techniques. The 'converted' class includes all sites that are completely dominated by human activity, including urban areas and regions of intensive agriculture and plantations. Image and caption courtesy of Canon, et. al (2007).
Chinese-backed smelter plan causes concern among Sulawesi fishermen
(03/31/2015) As a pair of Chinese-owned miners companies proceed with plans to construct nickel smelters in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi province, in line with a national edict to increase in-country mineral processing capacity, locals fear the factories will only intensify environmental degradation from the same firms' mining operations and harm fishing communities that rely on the area.
Locals revolt against gold miner in Sulawesi
(03/30/2015) Residents of Indonesia's Buyat Bay and a national legal aid institute are preparing a case against a gold miner they say began operating in secret without locals' consent. They also accuse the company, owned by a prominent politician, of failing to acquire the proper licenses, clearing forest in a protected area and damaging the environment.
New bird species confirmed in Sulawesi 15 years after first sighting
(03/06/2015) Although it’s a hotspot of avian biodiversity, the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has been “poorly studied ornithologically,” according to a study published in the scientific journal PloS one. Case in point: the subject of the study, a new species of flycatcher first observed in 1997 but not formally described by scientists until November 2014.
Sulawesi communities build big, unique houses by sustainably managing forests
(02/03/2015) Layuk Sarungallo sits in front of a large Tongkonan, the traditional house of the Toraja people characterized by sweeping roofs that resemble a boat or a buffalo horn arching toward the sky. The locals still use traditional construction methods, maintaining their houses with wood, bamboo and reeds.
Scientists discover fanged frogs that give birth to tadpoles
(02/02/2015) Scientists have discovered a new species of fanged frog that is the world's only known frog able to give birth to tadpoles. If that wasn't enough, L. larvaepartus also fertilizes its eggs internally, a reproductive strategy of which only a few amphibian species are capable.
Palm oil giant launches online platform to support zero deforestation push
(01/22/2015) Wilmar, the world's largest palm oil company, has unveiled a tool it says will help eliminate deforestation from its global supply chain. The tool is an online dashboard that maps the company's supply chain, including the names of locations of its refineries and supplier mills.
Sulawesi village seeks protection for sacred forest threatened by development
(01/16/2015) Home to some 400 fishermen, Manurung village appears unremarkable at first glance: quiet houses along a winding river lined with boats. However, behind the village lies something remarkable: a tract of old-growth forest nearly untouched by human exploitation. Pensimoni Hill stands as a rare outpost of towering trees rising above freshwater springs that provide clean water and life for the villages below.
Farmers help restore degraded forests in Sulawesi
(01/15/2015) Irda tends to his two-hectare timber plantation in Pamulukkang Forest at the base of Tanete Kindo Mountain in West Sulawesi. Unlike some other farmers in Indonesia, he does so without fear of harassment by forest rangers or police. Since 2008, he has been involved in the Community Plantation Forest (HTR) program—an initiative by the Indonesian government to restore degraded lands by encouraging locals to plant and manage commercially sustainable forests.
Forest management by Sulawesi community attracts international attention
(01/13/2015) The Ngata Toro community in the Indonesian province of Central Sulawesi worked with the government to remap their lands and negotiate access to the forest. In the year 2000, officials from the national park signed an agreement with Ngata Toro recognizing the existence of indigenous forests, and granting them permission to maintain the forest as they had previously.
Sulawesi community vies to maintain rights to forest
(01/07/2015) Around 3,000 people from 833 households live in Tompo Bulu's seven sub-villages. Traditional culture and ritual run thick in this area. The residents of Karampuang believe the area is where the cultures from eastern and western Indonesia first met. Local myth holds that the first leader of the area descended from the sky with a mandate that the locals must maintain their traditional way of life.
Indonesia developing mega coal mine five times larger than Singapore
(10/20/2014) Global miner BHP Billiton and Indonesian partner PT Adaro are developing what could become the single largest mine in Indonesia in terms of land area, with BHP owning 75 percent. The IndoMet mine complex in Central and East Kalimantan provinces on Borneo comprises seven coal concessions, which cover 350,000 hectares, or about five times the size of Singapore.
Indonesia’s tough choice: capping coal as Asian demand grows
(10/17/2014) Indonesia cannot build power stations fast enough. And neither can most of its Asian neighbors. Rapid economic and population growth are driving equally rapid demands for electricity as the region builds out power grids to connect up millions of people to fuel prosperity.
Indonesia tries to clamp down on coal sector’s worst excesses
(10/16/2014) Out of the jungles of East Borneo in Indonesia comes the fire that fuels Asia’s burgeoning economies: coal. Miners dig deep open pits, clearing forests and farmlands to extract coal from thick black seams, which is then crushed and loaded onto trucks and barges for shipment to China, India, Japan and other destinations in Asia.
What lies within, we may never know: deforestation threatening Sulawesi’s unique wildlife
(08/26/2014) For 10 million years the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has been disconnected from other landforms, almost inviting evolution to color outside the lines. Despite a growing population and limited space, Sulawesi has managed to provide a safe haven to hundreds of unique species as they evolved over millennia. But that haven may soon be lost to uncontrolled extraction of forest products from Sulawesi’s many pristine ecosystems.
Indonesia to hear indigenous peoples' grievances on land disputes
(08/22/2014) Public hearings into alleged violations of indigenous peoples' land rights will open next week in Palu on the island of Sulawesi. This is the beginning of a series of hearings by the Commission on Human Rights to explore conflicts affecting indigenous people in forest areas. The Commission will travel throughout Indonesia, providing concerned parties an opportunity to meet and discuss land disputes, before submitting the results of their findings to the next president.
A tale of two fish: cyanide fishing and foreign bosses off Sulawesi's coast (Part I)
(07/08/2014) In spring and summer, after the monsoon storms have passed, the fishing boats set out again from tiny Kodingareng Island in the Spermonde Archipelago off the coast of South Sulawesi. In the afternoon heat, Abdul Wahid joins his fellow fishermen in the narrow shade of the beachfront village houses to check out the daily fish prices.
Scientists discover carnivorous water rat in Indonesia, good example of convergent evolution
(06/19/2014) Researchers have discovered a new carnivorous water rat on the island of Sulawesi that's so unique it represents an entirely new genus. They believe many more new rodent species await discovery in this relatively undisturbed part of Indonesia, but mining and other types of development may threaten vital habitat before it’s even surveyed.
Despite green pledge, Wilmar partner continues to destroy forest for palm oil
(06/12/2014) Two palm oil companies partially owned by Wilmar are continuing to destroy rainforests in Indonesia despite a high profile zero deforestation pledge, alleges a new report published by Greenomics.
Mining company attacks scuba diving tourists in Indonesia
(06/05/2014) Conflict from mining activities on Bangka Island off North Sulawesi, entered a new chapter after a local resort manager voiced concern over an incident involving its clients and mining staff last Saturday.
Colorful bird on remote Indonesian islands should be classified as distinct species, say scientists
(06/04/2014) A colorful bird found on the Wakatobi islands south of Sulawesi in Indonesia is sufficiently distinct from birds in nearby areas to be classified as a unique species, argue scientists writing in the current issue of the open-access journal PLoS ONE.
FACTS ON SULAWESI
Land Areas: 174,600 square kilometers, making it the world’s 11th largest island (67, 413 square miles, 17.4 million hectares, or 43 million acres)
Human Population: 16 million (2005)
Biodiversity: 1450 birds, 127 mammals
Percent Forest Cover: Around 20%
Deforestation Rate: 2.35 percent annually between 1985-1997)
Causes of Deforestation: Agriculture, logging, and mining
The tropical forests—which once covered the whole island—have been broadly deforested by agriculture, logging, and mining. The process accelerated in the late 20th Century when the government began supporting commercial logging and large agriculture projects. Locals also began converting forests into cash crops.
A study in 2007 found that 80 percent of Sulawesi's forest is gone or degraded, including almost the entirety of Sulawesi’s rich lowland rainforest and mangroves. The study further speculated that little deforestation in the future is possible since most of forest land that was useful for cultivation and logging is already gone. With few attractive commercial trees, Sulawesi’s highland forests have fared better, though many have suffered from degradation.
At 174,600 square kilometers, Sulawesi is the world's eleventh largest island just after Ellesmere Island in Canada. It is famously described as a big island with no interior, given that the island consists almost entirely of four interconnecting peninsulas.
Its large and winding coastline measures 6,000 kilometers. The island is surrounded on all sides by other big islands: Borneo to the west, Philippines to the north, the Maluku islands to the east, and Flores and Timor to the south.
Politically, Sulawesi is split into six Indonesian provinces: Mamuju (West Sulawesi), Manado (North Sulawesi), Palu (Central Sulawesi), Makassar (South Sulawesi), Kendari (Southeast Sulawesi), and Gorontalo. With 1.25 million people, Makassar is the largest city on the island; it rests on the southwestern peninsula.
The strange shape of Sulawesi—five connected peninsulas with little to hold them together—was created by a collision of multiple plates originating from Asia, Australia, and the Pacific islands.
The island contains thirteen freshwater lakes including the deepest lake, Matano, in Southeast Asia.
Fishing, and increasingly aquaculture, has become important to Sulawesi's economy. Fish ponds and shrimp aquaculture has replaced much of the island's mangroves.
Other economic industries include commercial timber such as teak and rattan and tourism, which is seen as increasingly important by the government.
In 2004, 16.7 percent of Sulawesi's population were considered to be living in poverty. Most of the poor live in rural areas.
Sulawesi has a remarkable diversity of terrestrial flora and fauna and rich coastal marine life. Since the unique island sits on Wallace's Line it harbors species of both Asian and Australasian ancestors, though the majority are Australasian in origin.
On land, the percentage of endemic species is particularly noteworthy. Of 127 known mammals, 72 are endemic, making for one of the highest rates of endemic mammals in the world (62 percent). When bats are excluded—since they have better potential for migration—the percentage leaps to an astounding 98 percent. In addition, 34 percent of Sulawesi’s nearly 1500 birds are endemic.
Other fauna are unfortunately little studied. Twenty-five species of amphibian are known, forty lizards, and at least 52 terrestrial snakes. In addition, there are 38 species of large swallow-tailed butterfly, which so entranced Alfred Russell Wallace on his visit to the island. Researchers have also found 67 endemic species of fish in Sulawesi's dwindling mangrove forests.
Some standouts include:
The island's biodiversity is ripe for more discovery and study.
One of the marine biodiversity standouts is the Sulawesi coelacanth. This is the second species of the prehistoric survivor and is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List because it is threatened as bycatch. The coelacanth is not a target for fishermen.
Mangrove forests: found in estuaries and along Sulawesi's large coastline. At one time mangroves covered much of the coastlines, but most of these have been lost.
Montane forests: rising above 1,000 meters these forests are some of the most intact forests in Sulawesi. Lower montane forests are primarily made up of oak and chestnut species, while upper montane forests support a variety of conifers.
Monsoon forests: this unique forest type is little-studied. It receives the lowest amount of rain in all Indonesia and is able to survive long droughts. However, much of this forest type has been lost to grazing land.
Ultrabasic forests: a unique forest type that grows on nutrient-poor ultrabasic soil with little plant diversity, but high endemism since unique plants—like pitcher plants—have evolved to fill this niche. Ultrabasic forests are made up of short twisted trees. Few fauna live here.
Limestone forests: shallow soil and steep slopes make these forests low both in abundance and diversity. They are home to some endemic species like snails.
Peat swamp forest: though Sulawesi only has small areas of peat swamp forests they contain high biodiversity, especially of birds.
Freshwater swamp forests: like peat swamp forests, freshwater forests only cover a small area of Sulawesi. They are made up of palms, pandans, and pitcher plants.
Over 95 percent of Sulawesi's mangrove forests and lowland forests are disturbed. In less than a decade—between the mid 1980s and 1993—Sulawesi mangroves have been decreased by over 60 percent in part due to aquaculture for seafood such as shrimp.
Wetlands have suffered even worse: 99 percent of the island's wetlands are either gone or damaged.
Current rates of forest loss are lower than much of Indonesia, but this is primarily because much of the island's lowland forest was already gone by as early as 1985.
Forest loss is due primarily to logging and conversion. Beginning in the 1970s the government began supporting large-scale logging and vast agricultural projects. Since then migrants from urban areas to the countryside have converted large tracks of forest into cash crops such as coffee and cacao.
Since montane forests contain very few commercial species, they are relatively safe from loggers, but hunting, fires, and erosion due to cleared areas remain major threats.
Pollution and habitat destruction from mining poses a threat to biodiversity and ecosystem health. Mining is even reported to occur within the boundaries of protected areas.
Bushmeat hunting and poaching is a large issue for a number of endangered species, including anoa, babirusa, black crested macaques, and the maleo since its eggs are poached.
South Sulawesi, as opposed to north and central, is serviced by few parks and protected areas, leaving species and forests there particularly vulnerable.
Central Sulawesi contains the most well-known park on the island, Lore Lindu National Park spanning 229,000 hectares. It is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
On the northern peninsula, Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park protects 300,000 square hectares, while Rawa Aopa Watmohai National Park protects 105,194 hectares in southeast Sulawesi.
Most of the parks, however, suffer frequent encroachment for illegal logging, mining, and even conversion into crops. Thousands of illegal gold miners have been found plying their trade in Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park.
Sulawesi also has three national marine parks: Bunaken, Wakatobi, and Take Bonerate.
Bunaken National Park includes islands, mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs. Taka Bonerate National Park protects the Taka Bonerate atoll (and surrounding coral reefs), the world's third largest atoll and the largest in Southeast Asia. Last but not least, Wakatobi National Park is made up of island chains and 25 coral reefs.
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