In Indonesia, local environmental groups are beside themselves, appalled at a proposed energy project that would tear the heart out of the world-famous Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra -- a World Heritage Site and the last place on Earth where tigers, rhinos, elephants, and orangutans still live together.
Peril in the Rainforest
In northern Sumatra, a consortium of local environmental groups has just issued a press release calling on Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry and Environment to immediately reject the scheme.
A Turkish Corporation, Hitay Holdings, proposes to develop a major geothermal plant in the core of the World Heritage site, along with roads and other infrastructure needed for the project. In the past such roads and developments have led to major increases in deforestation and illegal poaching, mining, and logging.
The consortium has decried a rapid environmental assessment that involved only quick and superficial visits to the site. The assessment was funded by the Turkish corporation promoting the project, which alone makes the findings highly questionable, the conservationists say.
Beyond this, scientists and conservationists have identified gaping holes and inconsistencies in the report, which is generally supportive of the geothermal project. These problems have been described both in the press release and in a detailed report to the Indonesian Forestry and Environment Minister, the Honorable Siti Nurbaya.
The proposed development site sits right in the heart of Gunung Leuser National Park, and is designated as a critical "Core Area" of the park. The Turkish Corporation wants to rezone this core area -- which spans around 8,000 hectares in the Kappi Plateau region -- as a multiple-use site, to permit its project and other developments to proceed.
The Kappi Plateau region, say wildlife researchers, is a critical movement corridor and habitat connecting the eastern and western forests of Gunung Leuser National Park. As such, it is essential habitat for movement and reproduction by a host of endangered wildlife, including iconic species such as the Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros, elephant, and orangutan.
Panut Hadisiswoyo, Director of the Orangutan Information Centre in Sumatra, said, "We are confused and extremely concerned."
Conservationists argue that there are at least 14 other viable locations for geothermal projects in the region. Most of these are much closer to population centers in northern Sumatra, and hence are far more suitable for development.
Conservation is a never-ending battle, and wealthy corporations can hold enormous sway in developing nations. But Sumatran conservationists say this is no time to lose heart in the fight to protect one of the most iconic ecosystems on Earth.