The threats

Although the the Konawe karsts have until recently remained largely intact, for several years now they have been facing threats directly related to human activities. The northern foothills of the Matarombeo massif have given way to palm oil plantations, some parts of Matarape Bay have been razed by mining companies exploiting nickel, and the lack of a waste management system in the region gives rise to heavy pollution of the ocean by plastic waste.

Some of the threats described on this page have already begun to impact negatively on the massif, while others will only really be felt in the medium term if steps are not taken to mitigate them. The good news is that there are ways to counter or limit these impacts . More details will be posted soon but you can find the outlines of our conservation strategy for Konawe karsts.


The outskirts of the Matarombeo massif are threatened by the development of palm oil plantations.

La déforestation

The worldwide boom in both demand and production of palm oil has led to an explosion of oil palm plantations in recent years. This development has occurred largely at the expense of the primal forest , as on Borneo and Sumatra which just 20 years ago still housed many such virgin forests.

In the last hundred years, 80% percent of Sulawesi’s forests are estimated to have disappeared . Far from slowing down, plantation development is now spreading into more difficult-to-access areas which are often the last remaining reservoirs of species.

In the Konawe, the northern part of the Matarombeo massif already includes plantations that eat a little further into its surrounding forests each year. It is also likely that residues of plant protection products (pesticides and fertilizers) used on plantations are runoff to rivers and then to estuaries, where they add to the pollution and disruption of the mangroves and underwater ecosystems of Matarape Bay.

Déforestation et plantations d'huile de palme. Massif de Matarombeo, Nord Konawe, île de Sulawesi, Indonésie.

Deforestation and palm oil plantations on the northern slope of the Matarombeo massif. North Konawe, Sulawesi Island, Indonesia.

Plastic pollution

Indonesia’s dearth of infrastructure and lack of environmental education, in the context of its dense population and recent rapid development, has led to many areas lacking waste management facilities . As a direct result, the country’s rivers are extremely polluted. Indonesia is currently the world’s second-largest emitter of plastic waste into the ocean.

The coastal area of Matarape Bay is no exception. Most of the village waste is tossed directly into the sea which, depending on tides, currents and storms, is then scattered along the coast. The damaging effects of plastic waste on the environment are numerous: marine animals confuse it with food or get trapped in it, coral is diseasedby it, and in the long term, the waste breaks up into micro-plastic pellets that will take centuries to decompose.

Plastic waste pollution in Matarape Bay

Plastic waste, ubiquitous on the shores of Southeast Asia. Matarape Bay, Sulawesi.

Nickel mining

The coastline of Matarape Bay has become the site of several open-pit nickel mines. L’exploitation concerne essentiellement les couches superficielles du sol. Une fois l’extraction du minerai terminée sur une zone, la forêt a disparue, le sol n’a plus aucune structure, cohésion, ni micro-organismes, et les fonds sous-marins adjacents qui comprennent de nombreux récifs coralliens sont ravagés par l’écoulement des sédiments, particulièrement à la saison des pluies.

Les compagnies minières réalisant l’exploitation des gisements du Konawe do not establish settling basins et ne réalisent aucune opération de restauration du site. Presque aucune ne préserve le topsoil, la couche superficielle de terre arable, pour le remettre en fin d’exploitation, comme le demande la législation. Auparavant exporté brut, le minerai doit obligatoirement être traité sur le sol indonésien depuis 2014, mais de nombreuses compagnies obtiennent des dérogations à cette règle. L’île de Sulawesi, et particulièrement la région du Konawe, présente un fort potentiel en minerai de nickel, laissant présager une exploitation sur plusieurs décennies.

L'exploitation des mines de nickel dans la baie de Matarape, sur l'île de Sulawesi.

The exploitation of nickel mines in Matarape Bay, Sulawesi Island.

The Acanthaster or "Crowns of Thorns" starfish

Known as the "crown-of-thorns starfish " (CoTS), the starfish Acanthaster Planci is a predator of coral polyps. In a healthy ecosystem, it plays a sanitizing role in eliminating sick corals and controlling the population of some species relative to others. Extremely fertile, a single Acanthaster starfish can release millions or even Acanthaster starfish can release millions or even, the vast majority of which do not survive.

Pour des raisons qui restent encore à préciser (réchauffement climatique, ravinement des engrais utilisés en agriculture intensive, développement côtier et rejet des eaux usées, braconnage de ses prédateurs, etc.), population outbreaks of Acanthaster Planci are causing real damage in coral reefs around the world. Many research programs, including in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, are underway to build an understanding of this phenomenon. Plusieurs explosions de population ont été observées depuis 2017 dans la baie de Matarape.

L'étoile de mer Acanthaster Planci ou "couronne d'épines"

For reasons that are yet to be clearly understood, the starfish Acanthaster Planci or "crown of thorns" experiences noted proliferation phenomena. Matarape Bay, Sulawesi.

Unregulated tourist development

Still little known, the bay of Matarape currently hosts only two or three accommodation options and remains almost untouched by visitors. But it's only a matter of time before this rich site, already nicknamed " Little Raja Ampat ne soit ‘découvert’ et apparaisse sur les blogs, les guides, et les agences de voyages locales. Le développement touristique local a déjà marqué une première accélération en 2018. Parmi les conséquences néfastes que cela entraîne : les déchets des touristes laissés sur les plages et les bateaux mouillant les ancres sur le corail.

Ecolodge en construction dans la baie de Matarape.

Ecolodge en construction dans la baie de Matarape, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonésie. La consruction du lodge a commencé début 2018.

To prevent damage to the site by the erratic development of infrastructure, the destruction of coastal and underwater ecosystems by expanding tourism, and profiting of the local population from this development, a lead must be taken to establish the site’s protection status, raise awareness among the local people of its richness and fragility, and guide them in sustainable ecotourism practice. Tourism could then play a key role in enhancing outcomes for both the residents and their natural environment.

Coral reefs in Matarape Bay, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Coral in Matarape Bay. The seabed and in particular its corals may soon sustain damage through the growth of tourism and thus the frequency of boats. Matarape Bay, Sulawesi.

La pêche non durable

Très courante en Asie du Sud-Est, la pêche à la dynamite l’est également dans la baie de Matarape. Celle-ci consiste pour le pêcheur à jeter une bombe artisanale dans l’eau qui, en explosant, tue la vie marine de manière indiscriminée dans un rayon de 50-70m, y compris les juvéniles, les mammifères marins, et le corail. Des séries d’explosions sur un récif rendent sa régénération très difficile. Malgré les dégâts causés à la faune sous-marine et le risque d’effondrement local des stocks de poissons, cette pêche peut s’avérer très rentable à court terme.

La pêche au potassium-cyanure est également répandue car elle permet de capturer vivants des poissons très prisés dans les restaurants de Hong Kong et de Singapore, comme le Napoléon ou les mérous (voir cet excellent reportage photo and ce film du photographe James Morgan sur les Bajaus de sulawesi et la pêche des poissons de récifs). Elle entraîne le dépérissement du corail situé à proximité et touché par les produits chimiques. La surpêche est également un problème avec des bateaux de pêche industrielle (ci-dessous) venant pêcher illégalement près des côtes, y compris dans des zones théoriquement protégées.

Plateforme de pêche dans la baie de Matarape.

Plateforme de pêche dans la baie de Matarape, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonésie. Les pêcheurs locaux mettent en cause ces vastes plateformes (originaires pour certaines de la région de Makassar, la capitale de l’île) comme responsables de la surpêche et de la diminution des prises.

The cement plants

The karstic rocks themselves are also the target of industrial exploitation, in this case of cement. Previously protected by the forest which made their exploitation expensive, its disappearance and the construction of roads for oil palm plantations is rendering the karsts increasingly vulnerable. Throughout South-East Asia, karst complexes are being exploited one after another until eventually these impressive vertical reliefs will become mere memories. This threat, although still distant for the karst of Matarombeo, could one day become a reality if protections are not put in place within the next decade.

To find out more

English translation made possible thanks to the PerMondo project: Free translation of website and documents for non-profit organisations. A project managed by Mondo Agit. Translator: Cressida McDermott