Nowhere to fish, nowhere to farm – Beneath the Sands ERC

Collecting sand, Laos, 2018 (by Mary Newcombe CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr).
Collecting sand, Laos, 2018 (by Mary Newcombe CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr).

Across Asia and Africa, countries are dealing with massive sand mining that destroys fishing grounds, farmlands, and homes. particularly women.

Beting Aceh, an island in Riau Province, Indonesia, has been Eryanto’s home for 40 years. The island is known for its white sandy beaches and clean ocean water; more than half its residents are fishers. 

But the island has drastically changed over the past two years. The ocean water is getting murky, the beach is shrinking, and it has suffered from massive erosion, indicated by the uprooted trees strewn along the coast. Many villagers say the damage is linked to a sand mining operation happening between Beting Aceh and the neighboring Babi Island.

Sand mining has been a longstanding problem for the residents of Riau Province and the Riau islands. In 2007, the Indonesian government reported that 26 islands, most of them in Riau, had disappeared due to huge sand mining operations and abrasion. The government said the mining boom started in 1979, and since then, more islands have been exploited and have disappeared off the map.

Sixteen years after the report,sand mining in the region continues, slowly causing other islands in Riau to shrink, and destroy the local fishing industry in its wake. 

The first evidence of sand mining activities in Eryanto’s neighborhood emerged in 2021 when Indonesia was dealing with the second wave of the Covid pandemic: a fisher saw a dredger operating 1,7 miles from Babi island. The villagers found out that the dredger was owned by PT Logo Mas (LMU), which indicated to them that the activity would be located 20 miles from Babi. 

Due to the damage, today the fishers only manage to bring home a kilogram of fish every day. Before, they used to catch 10 kilograms of fish daily. 

In December 2021, Eryanto and other fishers started protesting. They visited the dredger, demanded the company leave the site, and reported it to the Ministry of Fisheries. As a result, the ministry instructed the company to halt  operations, and sealed the ship. 

In a press release, the ministry confirmed that the sand mining had damaged the coast. Questions sent to PT Logo Mas (LMU) for comment were unanswered at the time of publication.

The ministry’s claim is supported by an analysis of satellite imagery conducted in 2021-2022 by Widodo Pranowo, a National Research and Innovation Agency researcher. The satellite shows that the beautiful stretch of beach sand has disappeared. “The flagpole has fallen, lying on the eroded beach, and the roots of the trees are no longer in the ground, but are wet by the waves on the beach,” he said.

A photo from the Indonesian National Police archives shows a morning rally and clean-up event carried out by its personnel, along with the fishing community, on 29 November, 2018. But now, the beach is nowhere to be seen…


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