Diving Community Defeats Illegal Mining Company on Bangka Island

By Sarah Wormald

Bangka 01

Image courtesy of GotMuck

The beautiful island of Bangka sits in the heart of the Coral Triangle in Indonesia. Its white sand beaches, crystal clear water, endemic species, traditional way of life and phenomenal coral reefs make it an idyllic diving destination. But for 8 years it has been threatened by corruption and illegal mining, which has left forest areas damaged, mangroves destroyed, islanders distressed and the diving community angered.

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The small community of just 3,000 locals and five small diving operators, including Murex Dive Resorts – the pioneers of diving in North Sulawesi – have fought hard to protect their reefs, which are teeming with life and home to resident dugongs and form part of the migratory route for several species of whales.

So how did such a small, secluded island wind up at the center of such a political minefield and clear corruption?

Bangka 02

Image courtesy of GotMuck

In 2008 the Regent of North Minahasa granted a Chinese-owned mining company, Mikgro Metal Perdana, a licence to explore an area on Bangka Island for iron ore. The permit was extended a number of times to include more time and different minerals. In 2012 residents and dive operators sued the Regent as under Indonesian Law, Bangka Island is defined as a small island (an island under 2,000 km2) and any mining on islands within this category is illegal. Bangka Island is just 48km2.

During 2012 letters and petitions were filed with the President of Indonesia, the Human Rights Commission and other bodies including one petition from RainforestRescue.org with more than 30,000 signatures. Despite this, in August 2012 the mining company brought heavy drilling equipment to the island and later in August the Regional Court rejected the lawsuit. The local community appealed to the High Court and finally the exploration permits were revoked. It was a temporary success as the Regent and the mining company approached the Minister of Energy and Mining who went on to issue permits to commence preliminary mining activities regardless of the court’s ruling.

In 2014 after years of campaigning the exploration permit expired, but that was not the end. The then Indonesian Minister for Energy and Minerals issued the mining company with a production license so that operations on Bangka could continue. That Minister (Jero Wacik) is now in jail for corruption. Other high level officials were also involved and even local police on the island were cutting water supplies to villages to make way for more mining.

Bangka 03

Image courtesy of GotMuck

The Bangka Conservation Fund was set up in 2014 to “Save Bangka Island” and since its conception it has been raising funds to pay for legal fees, including registering the case in Jakarta, collecting witness evidence, verification of documents required under Indonesian law, advocacy fees and the installation of water quality control devices in the villages.

The legal processes that ensued from 2014 to 2016 were costly, time consuming and often seemed to make little progress. Due to the dedication of the Bangka Conservation fund supported by Murex Dive Resorts, combined with support from divers around the world, in 2016 the Indonesian Supreme Court finally ruled that the granting of production permits in 2014 after the expiration of the exploration permit was illegal. Bangka Island is now protected and will be saved exclusively for tourism, fishing and agriculture.

It is difficult to understand how permits can be issued illegally, how corruption can be so blatant and how so little respect can be paid to an area of such natural beauty, but sadly it does happen. Bangka Island is as a testament to all involved and a reminder that enough voices can make a difference and standing up for what you believe in is of the utmost importance if you want to bring about change.

Bangka 04

Image courtesy of GotMuck

Sadly Bangka suffered as areas of forest were destroyed and there are scars on the island’s hillside where land was cleared. The Bangka Conservation Fund is now working towards replanting mangroves and repairing the damage caused. Fortunately the mining was contained to one small area of the island and the remainder of Bangka and its surrounding kaleidoscopic reefs remain beautiful and it truly is a picture postcard holiday and diving destination.

Murex’s Bangka Island Resort is set on a beautiful “Robinson Crusoe” white sand beach and their House Reef alone offers phenomenal diving and snorkelling. Murex has a second resort in Manado from where they dive the Bunaken Marine Park as well as Manado Bay’s muck diving sites. To promote the exploration of the greater North Sulawesi region, Murex created the Passport to Paradise, an itinerary that allows travellers to explore three distinct dive destinations in one single trip: Bunaken, Bangka and Lembeh. Epic walls, stunning reefs and the world’s best muck all in one trip. This unique package offers seamless boat diving transfers from resort to resort so as to eliminate gear drying and packing days; simply board the boat in the morning and make your dives on route to your next destination.

Bangka 05

Image courtesy of GotMuck

To find out more or book your stay at Murex Manado, Murex Bangka or for your Passport to Paradise, contact Murex Dive Resorts at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or check out the website for more information: www.murexdive.com

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Ocean Geographic Explorer (OGX) is a diving adventure resource with a special focus on marine photography and ocean conservation. Our content is divided up into six primary categories: Travel, Sea Science,  Equipment, Photography &Video, Conservation, and Lifestyle. We endeavor be a portal for people with all levels of interest in the marine environment  to learn about and become part of a community of like-minded ocean lovers who enjoy sharing their knowledge of and experiences in our fascinating ocean world.

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