Outcry from environmentalists forces Indonesia to block auction of islands

Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Outcry from environmentalists forces Indonesia to block auction of islands A view of the Widi Reserve in North Maluku province, Indonesia.
Photo courtesy Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions

Indonesia on Wednesday canceled the license of a company managing a group of environmentally protected eastern islands after a backlash from environmentalists who slammed the firm for trying to auction rights for their development through Sotheby’s. 

“The Home Ministry has never and will never sell the islands,” said Mahfud MD, coordinating minister for Political, Law and Security, in response to criticism about the potential destruction of the Widi Reserve covering 25,000 acres in North Maluku province.

Mahfud said a Bali-based company, PT Leadership Islands Indonesia (LII), had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the North Maluku Provincial Government and South Halmahera Regency Government in 2015 to manage the Widi Reserve.

“The government has canceled the MoU because the contents of the MoU itself have never been complied with by LII,” Mahfud said told reporters in Jakarta on Wednesday. 

The minister made the decision after reports that LII was working with British auction house Sotheby’s to attract investors to buy development rights to the more than 100 islands. 

For its part, LII said in a statement last week that it had planned to develop a very small percentage of the total area of the reserve.

“Widi Nature Reserve is part of the entire coral atoll ecosystem globally and plays an important role. We must make every effort to protect it for future generations,” the company’s spokesperson, Okki Soebagio, said in a statement. 

“This is why LII is committed to only utilizing less than 0.005% of the area of the Alamini Reserve, making LII a resort developer on remote islands with the lowest density in the world.” 

The Widi Reserve “is one of the most breathtaking properties anywhere on earth,” according to Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions. 

“Located in far East Indonesia in the heart of the Coral Triangle, the Widi Reserve is a coral atoll archipelago boasting 100-plus uninhabited, pristine tropical islands fringed by 150 kilometers of powder white sand beaches, thriving coral reefs and private, deep-sea, nutrient-rich waters,” the auction website says. 

“This island chain is one of the most intact coral atoll ecosystems left on earth and an animal kingdom of epic proportions, home to hundreds of rare and endangered species including blue whales, whale sharks, 600 documented species of marine mammals, fish, birds, insects and lizards, and species yet to be discovered.” 

‘Thousands of small islands’ 

Indonesian environmental group WALHI said the Widi Reserve example should spur the government to prioritize the safety of small islands and the people whose lives depend on them. 

“This should be used as a basis for evaluating and withdrawing all foreign investment projects in all small islands in Indonesia,” WALHI Coastal and Marine Campaign Manager Parid Ridwanuddin told BenarNews. 

He said small islands face two serious problems – sinking caused by rising sea levels because of climate change and the emergence of mining industries. 

“WALHI in 2021 noted that 83 outermost small islands and 115 small islands in Indonesia’s deep waters are threatened with sinking,” Parid said. 

Greenpeace Marine Campaigner Afdillah Chudiel said the “sale” of Widi Reserve would have been a bad precedent for the management of small islands in Indonesia. 

“If the news of the auction had not gone viral, then we would have been caught off guard. We have thousands of small islands that we don't know how to manage,” Afdillah told BenarNews. 

Indonesia has hundreds of small uninhabited islands, but they all serve ecological and strategic functions, he said, adding coastal communities know best how to use and protect small islands. 

“The government must respect the local wisdom of coastal fishing communities,” Afdillah said. 

“The government must put environmental sustainability above business. Don’t sacrifice ecology just because of investment.”

Nazarudin Latif in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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