Yogi Eka Sahputra, Batam, Indonesia – Indonesian officials in Sumatra's Riau Islands province have reported a 280% increase in seizures of mangrove wood from would-be smugglers this year, attributing the surge in illegal logging to economic hardship among local fishers.
Provincial police said they had confiscated 21,186 mangrove logs so far in 2021, up from 7,647 logs in all of 2020. They said much of this mangrove wood came from the main island of Batam, with the logs destined for nearby Malaysia and Singapore. Police estimated the illegal sale of the logs would have deprived the state of 234 million rupiah ($16,300) in revenue.
Logging of mangroves is illegal in Indonesia and punishable by up to five years in prison and 2.5 billion rupiah ($174,000) in fines.
A resident who asked not to be identified said a growing number of fishermen had turned to cutting and selling mangrove trees to earn a living because of declining fish catches. Customs officials said the economic hardship wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic has also compounded the problem.
Hendrik, a coordinator of Akar Bhumi, a Batam-based NGO focusing on mangrove rehabilitation, said the illegal logging of mangroves was contributing to environmental damage across the Riau Islands, a small archipelago between the eastern edge of Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula.
"Fish and shrimps lay their eggs between the mangroves, and if they're cut down, then there won't be a place for those marine animals to live anymore," Hendrik said, adding that mangrove deforestation would only fuel the cycle of declining fish catches for the local fishers.
The surge in illegal mangrove logging comes as Indonesia targets the rehabilitation of 630,000 hectares (1.55 million acres) of mangroves across the archipelago by 2024.
The country is home to more than a quarter of the world's mangroves, an ecosystem that buffers coastal communities against storm surges and sea-level rise; stores four times as much carbon per hectare as other tropical forests; and serves as a key habitat for a wealth of marine species.
Indonesia has lost much of its mangroves to shrimp farms and logging, which have also undone previous efforts at mangrove rehabilitation.