Indonesia is renowned for both its biological diversity and the rate of its loss. Indonesia is the world’s largest and most densely populated archipelago, comprising of approximately 17,000 islands of which around 990 are permanently inhabited. The nation straddles two of the world’s seven major biogeographic regions, the Oriental and Australasian, and includes Wallacea, a unique biotic and geographic area that lies in the broad interface between these two major regions.

Indonesia has been identified by all recent international conservation priority-setting exercises as a global priority for actions to conserve biodiversity. For example, in Conservation International (CI) considers Indonesia to be one of 17 “megadiversity” countries -- with two of the world’s 25 “hotspots.”


It has 18 of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) “Global 200” ecoregions, and 24 of Bird Life International’s 218 “Endemic Bird Areas.” It also has 10% of the world’s flowering plant species and ranks as one of the world’s centers for agrobiodiversity of plant cultivars4 and domesticated livestock.

Indonesia’s unusually high levels of species richness and endemism are explained by the fact that it straddles two biogeographic regions, is located in the wet tropics, has many islands and an extremely complex geological history. The country ranks first in the world for number of mammal, palm, swallowtail butterfly, and parrot species (World Bank 2001; BAPPENAS 2003). Further, it is one of the world’s centers of species diversity of hard corals and many groups of reef-associated flora and fauna; indeed, it has the highest coral species richness in the world (Suharsono 1998).

Indonesia’s rich biodiversity is being rapidly degraded and increasingly under threat from rapid landscape change, pollution and over harvesting. Indeed, the country is often noted to be in an environmental crisis. This report synthesizes and provides updated information about the status of these threats to biodiversity and forests and their causes, many of which have been exacerbated by the series of dramatic political, economic and environmental shocks of 1998-1998 (World Bank 2001).

Recent events, however, offer hope that this environmental crisis can be abated. Communities throughout Indonesia are increasingly cognizant of the nature of this crisis through their witnessing and experiencing the considerable loss of life, health and economic hardship, due to devastating land slides, floods, loss of potable water and pollution and degradation of many ecosystems. The increasing empowerment of local governments and communities through decentralization laws also offers some hope that governments and local communities will now purposively respond to this crisis at both the legislative and ground level.

Even with increasing awareness in Indonesia of the need to conserve biological diversity and manage protected areas, loss of biodiversity and forests continues unabated across the country. The most biodiverse habitats, particularly lowland forests, are under the greatest pressure. The World Bank predicts that non-swampy lowland forests outside protected areas will be highly degraded in Sumatra by 2005 and in Kalimantan by 2010 (Holmes 2000). While timber, rattan, fisheries, swiftlet nests and other biological resources are major contributors to the national economy, they are exploited at unsustainable rates. Approximately 40 million Indonesians directly depend on forest resources with millions of others reaping indirect benefits (World Bank 2001, Bennett and Walton 2003). Many of these people find themselves increasingly impoverished by the economic decline of Indonesia. It is these poor people who are most dependent on biological resources for their livelihoods and who suffer the most from the impacts of the degradation of biodiversity and environmental services.

The four key factors leading to biodiversity loss in Indonesia are summarized :
(Megadiversity Country in Crisis)
The main factors affecting biodiversity loss and species extinction in Indonesia and a partial list of their impacts :

1. Habitat loss and fragmentation
+ Between 1985 and 1997, 20 million ha of forest was lost (about 1.5 million ha per year) most of it lowland forest below 300m where more than 60% of all rainforest species occur.
+ Since 1997, the rate of forest lost is 2.4 million ha per year or more – over 10 years an area as large as Montana or the UK is lost on forest rich islands such as Kalimantan and Sumatra.

2. Habitat degradation
+ 5 million ha of forests degraded by fires in 1997-98.
+ 60% of Indonesian coral reefs degraded.
+ Industrial and urban waste pollute fresh and coastal water ecosystems.

3. Overexploitation
+ Many species of animals harvested to local extinction to supply medicinal and specialist-food markets in Asia.
+ Rapid development in recent decades fueled and funded by non-sustainable use of natural resources.
+ Millions of increasingly impoverished coastal dwellers, rural villagers, and poor communities contribute to overexploitation of animals, plants, fresh water and marine fisheries in their search for subsistence.

4. Secondary extinction
+ Many species dependent on lowland forests are on the verge of extinction. Only a tiny number of species are the focus of monitoring programs.

An additional factor likely to have increasing impact in the future is climate change; already the effects of global warming are being reflected in coral reef die-off. "World Bank (2001) with amendments"

The most visible and intractable aspect of Indonesia’s natural resource crises is forest loss. The escalation in the rate of deforestation is intimately linked not only to degradation of other resources, but also to immense social, economic and political changes, which began in 1997 and continues to the present. The rate of forest loss was already high and accelerating in the mid-1990s, but in 1997-1998 these rates escalated as a consequence of the devastating fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra. These fires were unprecedented in number and geographic scope, and for the first time, international attention was drawn to the massive scale of environmental damage occurring in Indonesia (Barber and Schweithelm 2000). Further, during the economic crisis of 1997-1998, Indonesia saw the loss of 80% of the value of the Rupiah and the flight of working capital that led to the collapse of Java’s industrial sector. As a result, Indonesians, including policymakers, looked to their traditional economic base in natural resources to power the country’s economic recovery (World Bank 2001, Sunderlin et al. 2000). Moreover, with the fall of the 32-year centralistic Suharto government in May 1998, the call for political reform (reformasi) by various segments of society and the enactment of a set of decentralization laws in 1999, the central government’s control over regional affairs, including natural resource extraction, was vastly reduced. Regional governments, unable to develop during the New Order6, are to a large extent ill equipped to cope with these new responsibilities. Also, civil society – greatly suppressed during the New Order -- has yet to fully mobilize to monitor and assist the government in its attempts to be accountable and transparent. Thus, one result of this transition towards decentralization has been the manifestation and expansion in the regions of the system of corruption, collusion and nepotism that characterized the New Order regime.

Indonesia’s multi-dimensional economic and political crisis has exacerbated forest degradation and biodiversity loss. The economic crisis, dramatic political transition, unsystematic devolution of authority to provincial and district (kabupaten) levels and lack of law enforcement have led to increased pressures on forests throughout the country. Accelerated illegal logging and land encroachment are often sponsored by powerful political figures and institutions, and continues to be encouraged in the name of economic recovery and development. Some local governments, with support from the defense forces, issue permits to remove logs in protected areas (PAs) and areas not gazetted for logging. The practice is so prevalent and out in the open that it is sometimes difficult to determine that these activities are in fact illegal. Forest clearing occurs even in many well-known PAs that have important international donor programs. For example, 30,000 ha of lowland forests in the northern area of Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (Sumatra) have been lost in the last few years (World Bank 2001). Due to this illegal logging, the risk of fire within national park boundaries has increased (Nepstad et al. 1999).

Moreover, with the increasing fragmentation of habitats, some conservationists suggest that many species’ populations may not be viable. Conservationists increasingly call for an ecosystem approach that focuses on PAs and surrounding areas, which means that Indonesian production forests must be managed as buffer zones to PAs to maintain both permanent forest cover and biodiversity (World Bank 2001, Curran et al. 2004).

Several factors drive deforestation in Indonesia. Political will is a key one. For example, although previous governments in Indonesia repeatedly expressed commitments to sustainably manage production forests by 2000, Indonesia in 2003-4 has the highest rate of deforestation in the world at 2.4 million ha/year. Oil palm plantations were one of the primary causes of deforestation in the 1990s. Such large-scale land conversion was the largest cause of the 1997-98 fires, which burned nearly 5 million hectares of forest and imposed approximately US$8 billion in economic losses on Indonesia’s citizens and businesses (ADB 2002). Further driving illegal logging is overcapacity in the woodprocessing industry, which at this point consumes at least six times the amount of the annual allowable cut of 6.3 million m3 for 2003 (MoF 2003a). Overcapacity is a consequence of more than a decade of government policy incentives to develop local value-added industries, as well as below-market stumpage fees and log prices and a lack of care by banks in their evaluation of new wood-processing investments. Of the US $51.5 billion in private debt owed to the Indonesia Bank Restructuring Agency (IBRA), US$4.1 billion is in loans to the forest industry, of which US$2.7 billion are classified as non-performing (World Bank 2001, Simangunsong and Setiono 2003). Moreover, years of built-up resentment from forest dependent communities and the political changes in the reformasi era have fomented another set of challenges for Indonesia’s forests. Specifically, the New Order denied communities access to their customary natural resource base, thereby exacerbating poverty for many rural households. Now, communities that believe they have claims against GoI or logging or plantation companies for compensation or return of land use rights perceive a sense of power and are willing to act.

Biodiversity and Tropical
Forests in Indonesia
Biodiversity and Tropical Forests in Indonesia
Indonesian Biodiversity Patterns
Indonesia’s Marine Environment and
Region Specific Biodiversity
Legislative and Institutional Structure
Affecting Biological Resources
Legislative Basis for Protection and Management of Biodiversity and Forest Resources
Biodiversity Sumatra and Associated Islands
Biodiversity Kalimantan
Biodiversity Java and Associated Islands
Biodiversity Sulawesi
Biodiversity Nusa Tenggara and Maluku
Biodiversity Papua

In many places, they have created new local pressures on forests that have exacerbated the strains imposed by large-scale operators (World Bank 2001). Hence the factors driving deforestation are not only multiple, but also are the legacy of the New Order. Resolution of conflicts over land tenure and management rights is a key factor to reducing on-going rates of deforestation and achieving more sustainable natural resources management.

Source : Report on Biodiversity and Tropical Forests in Indonesia, USAID/Indonesia, 2004
Prepared by : (1) Steve Rhee, M.E.Sc. (2) Darrell Kitchener, Ph.D. (3) Tim Brown, Ph.D. (4) Reed Merrill, M.Sc. (5) Russ Dilts, Ph.D. (6) Stacey Tighe, Ph.D.

Habitat degradation indonesia biodiversity