KENDARI, KOMPAS – Several areas in Southeast Sulawesi, especially in the nickel mining centers, is now polluted. This environmental pollution makes people who depend on traditional sectors, including fisheries, languish.

Nickel mining in Southeast Sulawesi has mushroomed since around 2008. Many mining licenses (IUP), whose authority was still at the district/city level, was issued. Until now, according to data from the Central Sulawesi Provincial Energy and Mineral Resources (ESDM) Office, out of a total of 389 licenses, 196 were nickel mining licenses consisting of 188 production operations licenses and eight exploration licenses. The distribution of nickel mining areas in Southeast Sulawesi covers Kolaka, North Kolaka, Konawe, North Konawe, South Konawe, Bombana, and Buton. Mining activities dredge tons of soil containing nickel minerals (ore). The landscape’s damage was apparent from the Kompas team’s monitoring in Kolaka and North Konawe on Friday (3/11). Green land that was peeled off by heavy equipment turned red and barren.

Several hills also appear pockmarked. In Hakatutobu Village, Pomalaa, Kolaka Regency, chipped hills can be seen on the road’s side. In that area, two companies are still actively mining, and two other companies have left the mine site with the environment not being restored—the path to the red muddy mining area. Although there are shady trees on the side of the road, there are holes excavated by mines behind them.

The sea in Hakatutobu Village, a residential center for residents, is no longer blue but reddish. Mud about 50 centimeters deep settles. On the coast, there are also piles of nickel ore from mining. The pile will be transported to the barge via a jetty, which is connected to the dumpsite. In Mandiodo Village, Molawe, North Konawe District, nickel mining is mostly located in heavily forested mountains. The mine location is about 1 kilometer from the residential area. The excavation site looks like an avalanche in the middle of a dense forest. There is also a mining area not far from the beach. The former excavated forms niches in the middle of which there are puddles. Reddened seawater can also be seen on the west side of one of the jetties in Mandiodo. The reddish part of the water juts up to 50 meters into the 30-meter vast sea. Pieces of wood and various types of rubbish that fell on the beach were red. At the jetty, there are piles of red nickel ore.

Fishers affected

As a result of this condition, fishers have to go different fishing because the village waters’ fish population has plummeted. “I, who have a conventional boat, have to travel two hours to the deep sea to catch fish. In fact, in the past, fish were easily trawled around the coast,” said Rumang (49), a fisherman from Mandiodo Village. Rumang is about 20 fishermen who are still on the job after mining entered the area in 2007-2008.

Other fishers switch jobs to become mining workers. The decline in fish populations in the waters is thought to be due to material from nickel mining activities in the mountains and shipping docks that seep into the sea during the rainy season. Rumang said, before the mine began operating, he could make a minimum of Rp 300,000 from fishing in Mandiodo waters one day. With the distance traveled further and after deducting the fuel cost, currently, Rumang only earns an average of Rp. 100,000 from fishing overnight.

According to the Village Secretary of Hakatutobu Ruslan Gafur, nickel mining in his village began to bloom around 2008. According to him, four companies were holding mining licenses in the village area. “There are mining license holders who provide mining work to contractor partners (joint operation / JO). There are more than ten JO. This is what is damaging,” he said. Ruslan said that the miners were dredging the hills but did not consider the environment’s carrying capacity. The indicator, there is no reservoir, so that red soil does not touch the coast. The Head of the Mineral and Coal Sector of the Southeast Sulawesi Energy and Mineral Resource Service Muhammad Hasbullah Idris said, since the raw mineral export ban came into effect in January 2014, many nickel mining companies in Southeast Sulawesi were “sleeping.” “Activities have started again since the end of 2015 until now because there are opportunities to sell (nickel ore) domestically,” he said.

Intensify surveillance

Regarding the impact of mining on the environment, Hasbullah said supervision would be intensified through the mine inspectors formed in January 2017. The mine inspectors are employees of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources whose status has been transferred from regional employees. Hasbullah said, now Southeast Sulawesi has 69 mining inspectors. This number is not ideal because many mining licenses must be supervised and scattered in the province’s mainland areas and islands. Executive Director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, Southeast Sulawesi, Kisran Makati, asked that efforts to restore ex-mining land and its impacts in several coastal and agricultural areas should be carried out immediately. “Companies with problems, for example, mining in forests, must be processed legally,” he said.

Director-General of Environmental Damage and Pollution Control at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) MR Karliansyah said there were 557,000 hectares of open access land due to mining throughout Indonesia. This damaged area is almost the Bali Island size, which has an area of ​​578,060 hectares (Central Bureau of Statistics 2015). From this area, KLHK has only verified in the field an area of ​​6,368.25 hectares. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry faces obstacles to open access land rehabilitation in areas not controlled by the government, such as concession areas for companies or privately-owned companies. (IKI / VDL / ENG / APO / CAS / ICH)