Sharks that walk across the ocean floor. Fifty new marine species found in six weeks. These latest scientific discoveries in Indonesia could make you believe anything is possible.
Much of the marine life surrounding this Southeast Asian nation remains a mystery to scientists, largely due to its unique size, shape, and location. Indonesia is actually a volatile chain of 17,500 islands that straddles the equator between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common in what is called the planet’s “Ring of Fire.” Stretched from east to west, it is wider than the continental United States. Indonesia is considered to have some of the most biological diverse places on the planet, but could soon claim to be number one as scientists further delve into the country’s many unexplored parts.
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The Indonesian government is on track to meet its goal to protect more than 10 million hectares of coastal marine regions by 2010. Unfortunately, landscapes have not been given equal attention.
In just three short decades, Indonesia has lost 80 percent of its forests. Rubber, oil palm, and pulp plantations have taken their place. Deforestation at such rapid rates is estimated to send two billion tons of carbon into the air every year, making Indonesia (behind the United States, China, and the European Union) the fourth worst emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.
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Few Indonesian islands, home to extraordinary wildlife, have escaped these troubling developments. Explosive industrial growth across Sundaland, the country’s western half – including the major islands of Bali, Borneo, and Sumatra – has thrust many highly threatened species, such as the Sumatran orangutan, to the brink of extinction.
Looking ahead, scientists are especially worried about the impact of global climate change on Indonesia’s environment. New rainfall patterns predicted within this century could produce extreme weather events with even more frequency, pushing sea levels higher and destroying islands and coral reefs. Since half of country’s economic activity happens on the coastline, the effects on local fishing communities could be devastating.
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EXPLORATION: Our scientists explored the remote Halmahera Sea.
But encouraging developments occur every day. Three Indonesian provincial governors declared a logging moratorium to literally provide the Earth a breathing space to lock in carbon and other greenhouse gases. The transfer of authority to protect land and sea scapes through decentralization resulted in the first-ever locally declared protected areas in Sumatra and the Raja Ampat archipelago. On a national scale, public and private sector environmental leaders are working hard to stop and reverse deforestation and other environmental devastation.