President Joko Widodo: Please save Balikpapan Bay!

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The highly controversial Pulau Balang Bridge is about to bring disastrous irreversible environmental damage to one of the last remaining pristine coastal habitats in East Kalimantan (Indonesia) - Balikpapan Bay. Furthermore, the  project is economically flawed and wasteful of government funds, and will lead to a completely avoidable increase in Indonesia’s carbon emissions from both excessive vehicle mileage and forest destruction. 

Balikpapan is one of the most biodiverse cities in Asia. It hosts the last remaining coastal primary rainforest in the region still connected with adjacent marine ecosystems such as special mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs. It is home to 1,400 endangered proboscis monkeys and many other highly threatened marine and forest species including Irrawaddy dolphins, dugongs, orangutans, clouded leopards, sun bears, and Bornean gibbons, all of which are protected under Indonesian law. Over 100 species of mammals and almost 300 species of birds live here. This biodiversity richness represents a huge sustainable ecotourism potential, which can contribute significantly to the local and national economy without sacrificing fisheries, which is the main livelihood of many local people.

Unfortunately, all this richness will be destroyed if the Pulau Balang Bridge construction continues as proposed. All the current corridors that connect the primary rainforest to the coast will be cut, and protected species will become isolated in small patches of forest where they will become extinct. The construction phase of the road has already begun to open access to uncontrolled land speculation, encroachment, logging, illegal hunting and forest fires. The increased level of soil erosion and sedimentation is causing death of coral reefs, which will in turn will destroy the whole marine environment.

The plans for the current development are 25 years old, and were intended to provide a bridge crossing Balikpapan Bay using technologies and development thinking of a previous era. As a result, the current planning for the bridge location entails an 80-kilometer detour for vehicles driving from the west side of the bay to Balikpapan. The current plan is outdated, environmental disastrous, and uneconomic. It is only still being pursued because of the vested interests of land speculators and contractors.

Yet with modern technology, it is possible to build a bridge that would provide a 90% shorter route, spending much less on access roads and subsequent maintenance, cause minimal environmental damage, thus saving carbon emissions and protecting environmental services, and the livelihoods that they provide.

Please help us to ask the President to declare a moratorium on the current plan, while an up-to-date feasibility study and cost-benefit analysis is carried out by unbiased and qualified experts. We are confident that they will find namely that the current plans are old-fashioned, wasteful, and environmentally disastrous.