Far from the madding crowd: restored mangroves provide an oasis of calm in Jakarta

Having been born, brought up and lived in rural Norfolk for most of my life, adapting to Singapore – where the country is a city state and the city state is the country – is a challenge. The sky scrapers, people, cars, and acres and acres of concrete are much different from what I was used to.

This is brought into focus no more sharply than in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. With a population of around 10 million and an area of 660 km2 Jakarta is the biggest city in SE Asia, the 13th largest in the world and has the unenviable reputation of being the world’s largest city without a mass rapid transport system for its residents.

Jakarta cityscape (photo credit R. Foges/FFI).

The traffic jams in the city are legendary, and a simple journey across town can end up being a three hour epic test of patience. This is not only painful to a simple country boy such as me, but apparently inflicts a US $3 billion cost to business in Jakarta each year.

Even in the face of such an outward display of environmental dysfunction, all is not totally gloomy, for there are occasional glimmers of light. One such moment of enlightenment resulted from a recent trip to Jakarta to a Fauna & Flora International (FFI) mangrove restoration project.

Mangroves: nature’s multi-taskers

Mangroves are a range of scrubby tree species (found around the world in tropical and sub-tropical regions) that are highly adapted to the saline and brackish inter-tidal areas along coastlines, rivers and estuaries.

They constitute important habitats for many species, are rich in fish and seafood, offer protection against storms and Tsunamis, reduce pollution by absorbing nutrients and have recently been recognised as major stores of carbon and could thus be important in combating climate change.

Despite this, they are a threatened habitat and are frequently removed for coastal development projects. It has been estimated that since 1980 around half the world’s area of mangroves have been destroyed.

The area of mangrove I visited is known as the Suaka Margasatwa Muara Angke and Hutan Ekowisata Angke-Kapuk (Kapok Muara Angke Wildlife Reserve, Protected Forest and Nature Park Angke Kapok). This 200 ha area is state owned but is being managed by a local NGO Jakarta Green Monster (JGM).

JGM was established and is supported by FFI, and works with local community groups to improve the conservation value of the area, its role in providing environmental services and hopefully provide some form of alternative livelihood for the people living around it.

Time for a little payback

Right on the northern edge of Jakarta, along the toll road to the airport, the village of Muara Angke is the principal fishing port in Jakarta and the mangroves there constitute the last remaining patch in Jakarta.

When JGM took on the site it was a highly degraded and polluted area of swamp that was made up primarily of filthy mud, heaps of rubbish and a few old trees. Despite this the area was recognised as an important endemic bird area for the species it supported, including Javan coucal, black-winged starling and Asian darter.

So with this in mind JGM and FFI started a programme of restoring the mangroves. JGM saw that the only way to tackle the issues affecting the site was to engage with people living around the site to raise their awareness of the importance of the mangroves and to demonstrate ways that they could help improve them, and hopefully receive some form of financial return.

Former mangrove, coated in rubbish (photo credit: Enny Sudarmonowati / Jakarta Green Monster)

At the start it was necessary to remove the masses of rubbish that had collected on the site, after having floated down the nearby river. On the first rubbish collecting day, two hours of work resulted in around six tonnes of rubbish being removed. Fortunately today the same two hours results in less than 100 kg of rubbish.

As much of the rubbish comes from up-steam, it is an almost unending problem so, to maintain people’s interest in removing it, JGM secured funding to buy the necessary equipment to process the rubbish. Now it is sorted and chopped into a form that is more easy to transport and process, so that its value is doubled. They also process the organic material to make compost and charcoal briquettes. All the profits from this go to the local communities.

With the immediate, local problem of rubbish dealt with, JGM is now working at a much larger scale with city authorities to change policies and to get them to instigate actions to reduce the rubbish.

Replanting begins

Another important part of the work of JGM at the site is the replanting and rehabilitation of the mangroves. This has been addressed by establishing a seedling nursery, developing novel site-relevant planting techniques and providing training on how to plant and look after the trees.

This work is already reaping rewards, the area has hardly any rubbish, the water that runs through it is much cleaner, it is now pretty much covered in trees and has birds and monkeys! So, whilst it is little compensation for all the horrors of a mega city, it does provide some respite.

Mangrove replanting is now underway.