Les menaces sur les milieux naturels de Sulawesi

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.

Certaines des menaces décrites sur cette page ont déjà un impact négatif sur le massif, tandis que d’autres ne se feront réellement sentir qu’à moyen terme, si rien n’est entrepris pour y remédier. Si leur étendue peut effrayer, il est bon de savoir également qu’there are ways to counter or limit these impacts de chacune d’entre elles.

Palm oil plantations around the Matarombeo massif
The outskirts of the Matarombeo massif are threatened by the le développement des plantations d’huile de palme.


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.

Loin de s’arrêter, le développement des plantations atteint maintenant des zones plus difficiles d’accès, souvent les derniers réservoirs d’espèces ailleurs disparues.Dans le Konawe, le versant nord du 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.

Sur l’île de Sulawesi, on estime que 80% des forêts ont disparu au cours des cent dernières années.

Deforestation and palm oil plantations. Matarombeo Massif, North Konawe, Sulawesi Island, Indonesia.
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, it creates coral diseases, 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. The operation involves mainly the superficial layers of the soil. Once ore extraction is complete on an area, the forest has disappeared, the soil has no structure, cohesion, or micro-organisms left, and the adjacent seabed, which include many coral reefs, is ravaged by the flow of sediments, particularly in the rainy season.

The mining companies carryint out the exploitation of mineral deposits in Konawe district do not create sediment ponds 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.

La région du Konawe présente un fort potentiel en minerai de nickel, laissant présager une exploitation sur plusieurs décennies.

The exploitation of nickel mines in Matarape Bay, Sulawesi Island.
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 cleaning role in eliminating sick corals from the reef and controlling the population of fast-growing coral species. Extremely fertile, a single starfish can release millions or even dozens of millions of eggs in a single spawning event, the vast majority of which do not survive.

For reasons that have yet to be specified (global warming, run off of fertilizers used in intensive agriculture, coastal development and mismanagement of wastewater, overfishing of predators, etc.), les épisodes de prolifération d’Acanthaster se multiplient to coral reefs around the world. Many research programs, including in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, are underway to build an understanding of this phenomenon. Several population outbreaks have been observed since 2017 in Matarape Bay.

A noter que le réchauffement climatique est la principale menace pesant sur les récifs coralliens à travers le monde, mais que des menaces locales comme les Acanthasters ou la pêche à la dynamite dégradent les récifs au point de diminuer leur capacité de résilience.

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 beautiful spot, already nicknamed " Little Raja Ampat "got 'discovered' and start to appear on blogs, guides, and local travel agencies. Local tourism development has already sped up in 2018. Among the negative consequences this entails: the waste tourists leave on the beaches, and boats anchoring directly on the coral.

Ecolodge under construction in Matarape Bay.
Ecolodge en construction dans la baie de Matarape, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonésie. La construction 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, en sensibilisant les populations locales à la richesse et à la fragilité de leur environnement et en les aidant à mettre en place un écotourisme durable qui préserve leur environnement tout en leur apportant des revenus. Le tourisme pourra être alors l’une des clés d’une dynamique bénéfique aux populations et aux milieux naturels.

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.

Unsustainable fishing

Very common in Southeast Asia, dynamite fishing is also common in Matarape Bay. This consists of the fisherman throwing a homemade bomb into the water which, by exploding, indiscriminately kills marine life within a 50-70m radius, including juveniles, marine mammals, and coral. A series of successive explosions make it very difficult for a given reef to recover. Despite the damage to underwater wildlife and the risk of local collapse of fish stocks, this fishing technique can be very profitable in the short term.

Potassium-cyanide fishing is also widespread because it allows the capture of live reef fish popular in Hong Kong and Singapore restaurants, such as Napoleon or groupers, (see this excellent photo reportage and this movie from photographer James Morgan on the Bajaus of Sulawesi and on reef fish harvesting). The coral located in the vicinity of the chemicals dies. Overfishing is also a problem with industrial fishing vessels (below) fishing illegally near the coast, including in areas theoretically protected.

Fishing platform in Matarape Bay.
Fishing platform in Matarape Bay, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. Local fishermen blame these vast platforms (some from the Makassar region, the island's capital) for overfishing and shrinking catches.

Cement quarry and 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. A travers toute l’Asie du Sud-Est, qui présente le taux d’exploitation en carrière le plus élevé au monde, les ensembles karstiques sont exploités les uns après les autres jusqu’à que d’impressionants reliefs verticaux ne soient plus que des souvenirs. Cette menace, certes encore éloignée pour le karst de Matarombeo, pourrait un jour devenir une réalité si des protections ne sont pas mises en place dans la prochaine décennie.

To find out more

Retrouvez sur le détail de nos premières activités de conservation et notre stratégie à long terme pour la préservation des karsts du Konawe : Preserving the karsts of Konawe - Helloasso (French only).

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