Sulawesi’s last frontier

Southeast Sulawesi’s remote mountain ranges hold the largest expanse of intact forest of an island often compared to the Galapagos and Madagascar for the uniqueness of its fauna and flora. On the eastern coast of Sulawesi lies the Banda Sea, the second most biodiverse marine area of the Coral Triangle. Relatively spared until now compared to Sumatra and Borneo, Sulawesi’s unique ecosystems are now facing a growing range of threats.

These pictures are part of the work I did with the conservation organization Naturevolution and its local partners in Southeast Sulawesi.

Island and coastal communities

The coast of Southeast Sulawesi is dotted with Bajau communities – former sea nomads now largely settled – and other villages relying almost exclusively on fishing for their livelihoods.


The Matarape bay, also known locally as Labengki-Sombori after its most visited islands, has been nicknamed the ‘mini Rajat Ampat’, as much for its likeliness with the famous archipelago of West Papua as for promoting local tourism development.

Nickel mining and deforestation

Sulawesi’s Morowali and North Konawe regencies hold some of the biggest untapped resources of nickel ore, leading to a mining boom and an influx of both local and foreign companies. Environmental regulation are rarely respected, leading to a loss of the original topsoil, sediment run-off into river and coastal ecosystems, along with insufficient post-mining restoration efforts. Many instances of ties between decision-makers and mining companies have been reported. Though exploitation has so far mainly been limited to the coast (as of 2019), new roads are opening inland into areas once out of reach and free of large scale human impact.

Left to right, 1st row: Superficial nickel mining generates sediment run-off into rivers, aggravated by the lack of sediment ponds, normally required by the mining code. Morowali, Central Sulawesi; Nickel mining exploitation on the coast of the Matarape bay, North Konawe, Sulawesi. Coastal coral reefs covered by sediment generated by mining activities. 2nd row: Coastal coral reefs in mining areas; Post-exploitation mining site, where some reforestation efforts have been done, as required by law. Most sites are not regenerated after exploitation. Post-mining sites are the most difficult type of terrain to reforest; Boenaga village in North Konawe, on the edge of Teluk Lasolo marine protected area. Nickel mining generates many comparatively well-paid local jobs, but the best positions go to expatriates. 3rd row: Nickel mining exploitation, North Konawe, Sulawesi.

With low-lying forests across Indonesia now largely cleared, the deforestation front is reaching into areas harder to access to create new plantations of crops like oil palm and pepper.

See other series on mismanaged waste and recycling initiatives as well as marine conservation activities in Southeast Sulawesi.

Sulawesi’s last frontier | 2022 | Nature & Conservation | Tags: , , | Comments (0)