Indonesian islanders draw line in sand as Dubai-style reclamation nears

MAKASSAR, Indonesia — Daeng Bau says he has no plans to move from his home on the tiny island of Lae-Lae, a stone’s throw across the seafront here in Makassar, the capital of Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province. However, like many of the island’s 2,000 residents, Bau says he fears he may soon lose his ties to Lae-Lae.

“As long as residents keep fighting to defend their rights, the government has to listen to the people,” said Bau, speaking through a megaphone in September to a crowd of demonstrators. “One more time: Reject the reclamation, no negotiations.” Ceramic Sand For Foundry

Indonesian islanders draw line in sand as Dubai-style reclamation nears

At that protest in Makassar, Bau was joined by around 100 people from Lae-Lae to amplify their objections to a 157-hectare (388-acre) reclamation project off the coast of Makassar. It was the seventh demonstration attended by the community since February.

At issue is the construction of Center Point Indonesia, a high-rise development project built on a reclaimed zone of water off Makassar, which encompasses the 500-meter-wide (1,640-foot) island of Lae-Lae.

Center Point Indonesia was first proposed in 2009 as a clutch of gleaming islands with new condominiums and commercial premises for eastern Indonesia’s largest and most overcrowded city. The devolved government authorized the project in 2013, awarding the tender to PT Yasmin Bumi Asri, a company associated with Indonesian conglomerate the Ciputra Group. Yasmin Bumi Asri then engaged Dutch engineering firm Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V. to carry out the reclamation.

Permission to build on the sea in Indonesia falls under several pieces of legislation, such as a 2007 law on coastal management. That law, amended in 2013, requires a prospective project to yield greater socioeconomic benefits than costs incurred to the wider community, a formula that can produce contested results.

Of the 157 hectares of reclaimed land to be created by the Center Point Indonesia project, two-thirds will be held by the private sector for construction of apartments and commercial premises, while 50.6 hectares (125 acres) will become the freehold of the local administration, and home to government buildings.

But the complex includes around 12 hectares (30 acres) of reclamation around the island of Lae-Lae, which is home to a community of 2,000 people who depend on fishing and some local tourism.

Fishers from Lae-Lae say the project narrows their fishing grounds and threatens sea life, likely asphyxiating the near-shore fishery from which they provide for their families.

Some representatives of civil society raised objections as soon as construction began in 2011. Activists have challenged the integrity of the project’s environmental impact assessment, and raised objections based on impacts to the coastal ecosystem.

“For me, reclamation is not the sole alternative to fix the problem of urban density and major economic growth given the environmental impact,” Edy Kurniawan, a lawyer with the Makassar office of Indonesia’s Legal Aid Foundation, wrote in 2016.

That same year, the South Sulawesi branch of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, known as Walhi, a prominent national NGO, wrote to the head of BCA, Indonesia’s largest private sector bank, requesting it not facilitate transactions associated with the project, owing to the dispute.

At the September protest, the crowd gathered outside the South Sulawesi provincial parliament building before continuing on to the governor’s mansion. Lae-Lae mothers held placards aloft saying “Reclamation is Useless” and “Destruction of Coral Reefs is a Crime.”

Daeng Bau and other demonstrators called on the provincial government to revise the region’s zoning plan, cancel the reclamation, and allow them to live in their homes.

Lae-Lae residents say a clear majority opposes the plan. According to those demonstrating in Makassar, around 1,500 people have signed a petition against the reclamation.

“This figure continues to rise as opposition to the reclamation strengthens,” said Hasbi, a Lae-Lae resident protesting the development.

Earlier this year, fishers configured 17 boats in a row, starboard to port, and unfurled a massive banner running the width of the boats that read “Resist the Reclamation of Lae-Lae Island.”

A report by Walhi’s South Sulawesi office published testimony from several Lae-Lae residents, highlighting the strength of opposition among those who live on the island.

“Here the situation is very sensitive,” one resident told the NGO’s fieldworkers.

In response to community objections, the provincial government has maintained that the project will provide new housing and catalyze economic growth. Moreover, the government says Lae-Lae residents won’t be forced from their homes and will see benefits from the project.

“There is no intention whatsoever to move them,” Nurdin Abdullah, South Sulawesi’s then-governor, said in 2020. “In fact, the local community will not be disturbed by this reclamation project activity, and of course this aims to increase the economic growth of the island community.”

But Bau, Hasbi and 1,500 others from Lae-Lae who signed the petition say they plan to continue to oppose the plans.

“The land that will be reclaimed is where fishermen catch fish,” Hasbi said. “It will erode the marine ecosystem and the livelihoods of local fishermen.”

In the last week of September, the people of Lae-Lae gathered on the island for their annual Songkabala, a ritual that purges evil, underpinned by a motif linked to the sea.

Bau stood up on a chair holding up a symbolist painting in which a woman, whose hair flows like waves, appears to cradle the ocean in her arms.

“Here we are the wives of fishers, we are the women of fishers. We embrace the sea and the sea embraces us,” Bau said. “We don’t want to be separated from the sea and the reefs.”

Banner image: Fishermen and activists held a parade and unfurled a 30-meter-long (98-feet-long) banner opposing the reclamation of Lae-Lae Island Makassar in March 2023. Image courtesy of the Coalition Against Reclamation.

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and first published here and here on our Indonesian site on Sept. 13 and 29, 2023.

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Indonesian islanders draw line in sand as Dubai-style reclamation nears

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