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Local Fishermen Respond to Allegations of Nickel Waste Pollution in the Kawasi Beach

05 April 2023

TRIBUNNEWS.COM - The majority of people who live on the coast make their living from the sea for their livelihoods, particularly those who work as fishermen. Such is the case with the local fishermen who live on Kawasi Beach, located on the west side of Obi Island in South Halmahera, North Maluku.

However, there have been recent reports alleging that Kawasi Beach is contaminated with heavy nickel metals. These allegations suggest that the catch of local fishermen in Kawasi Beach has decreased, and they are at risk of losing their livelihoods because their catches allegedly poisoned due to pollution in the Obi Sea.

These accusations and allegations are denied by the local community, most of whom work as fishermen. According to the residents, they can still go fishing because the waters around Kawasi are still abundant with fish. They sell their catch in the local market to meet their daily needs and for their own consumption, including to companies.

Saidi Jouronga is one of these fishermen. The 58-year-old man has lived in Kawasi his entire life and still pursues fishing as his profession. He goes out to sea every day from 6 am until late afternoon, except when the weather is bad.

"We can't stay at home when the weather is good because we need to go out to sea for our daily needs," Saidi said recently on the edge of Kawasi Beach.

The grandfather of nine grandchildren looks for fish around Kawasi Beach, and sometimes he goes further to Akelamo. But he notes that if they go too far out to sea, the water is deep and the waves are big, and he thinks about safety.

The average daily catch is 20-30 kg

On average, the fishermen in Obi Island, including Saidi, catch 20-30 kg of fish every day. To reach the fishing spots, they ride ketinting boats, small vessels with outboard engines that can accommodate up to four people. Such boats are commonly used in various regions of the country to transport the catches of traditional fishermen.

The fishing technique is still manual, with most fishermen using only fishing rods and handlines. Saidi prefers using a handline, which he extends to a certain depth to target the catch. "I pull it up continuously for about thirty minutes. When it's less than two meters from the boat's body, I jump into the sea and catch the fish," he explained. He recently caught a Giant Trevally weighing 23.51 kg in waters not far from the beach, which earned him the first prize in a fishing tournament held by Harita Nickel.

According to Saidi, he still catches between 20-30 kg of fish every day, including different types of fish such as the Giant Trevally (locally known as Bobara), Grouper, Red Snapper, and squid. The price of fish per kilogram in the local market is around IDR 40,000 to IDR 50,000.

Saidi emphasized that the claim that there are no fish in Kawasi's sea or that people don't want to eat them because the water is dirty is a lie. "I was born in Kawasi, I look for fish here every day until now, so I know exactly," he said.

Harita Nickel Brings Progress to Kawasi Village

Regarding the presence of Harita Nickel in his birth village, Saidi stated that the company's operations have brought about many positive changes. Besides providing employment for local residents, the company also offers assistance to Obi fishermen and farmers like himself.

"The presence of this company has brought many changes to Kawasi Village. It is not causing any more damage, but the village is becoming more beautiful. It is not going backward, but it is progressing," he explained.

Saidi also admitted that he is ready to support the company's programs, which have obtained permission from the government, including the planned relocation of Kawasi Village residents to a new settlement prepared by the company.

"If we are asked to move, we will follow. In principle, I support whatever program the government and the company have, because it's for the good of the community, especially for our children and grandchildren in the future," he added.

Saidi also mentioned that the sea has become an integral part of his life. Thanks to the results of fishing, he can fulfill his daily needs and even afford to send his children to school. Two of his children have already graduated from college and are working, while one is still in college in Ternate and will graduate this year, and the rest are still in school.

"I have given my children the opportunity to study, so that they can think, 'my father catches fish in the sea so that we can go to school and study'," he added, hoping that the lives of his children and grandchildren will be better in the future.

Hut Ibrahim, a resident of Kawasi Village who also works as a fisherman, also stated that he still goes fishing in the waters of Kawasi. Like Saidi, he still uses traditional equipment to catch fish.

In addition to meeting his daily needs, Hut Ibrahim also uses the proceeds of his fishing to finance his children's education. One of his children has even graduated from a university in Ternate with a degree in Computer Engineering and will continue to pursue a master's degree this year.

"The company has provided many benefits to the community so far. Hopefully, in the future, it can continue to develop and become even more advanced in building the community here," said Hut Ibrahim.

Several parties denied accusations of pollution in Obi Island's waters

Accusations that the company's activities have led to sea pollution on Obi Island have been denied by the company and other parties. The company's defense is supported by an independent and accredited laboratory's results, which show that water samples taken from the sea still meet quality standards.

Experts in marine and fisheries, as well as independent academics from prominent universities in Indonesia, such as Bogor Agricultural University, Khairun University, Diponegoro University, and Sam Ratulangi University, have conducted direct research. They report that fishing activities in the waters around Obi Island still show productive conditions that are typical of tropical waters.

For example, between 2015-2021, Dr. Inneke Rumengan, a lecturer of Planktonology at the Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Science at Sam Ratulangi University (Unsrat), conducted research and stated that the condition of the marine biota community in Obi is stable, and there is no declining trend.

The company's Head of External Relations, Stevi Thomas, affirmed that the company practices excellent mining through good corporate governance and responsible environmental management. The company also takes on corporate social responsibility through the Community Development and Empowerment Program.

The program covers various aspects, including education, health, socio-culture, economic development, and infrastructure development.

Stevi Thomas added that the program is not only carried out as a manifestation of social responsibility but also reflects the company's principle to encourage growth and operational management through fulfilling responsibilities towards the community and the environment.

"Community Development and Empowerment Program is carried out in line with the government's program through partnerships and the active roles of various stakeholders. Communities in several villages fostered by the company have felt the benefits of various programs, including higher education scholarships, access to health services, agricultural and SME development, support for community social activities, and the strengthening of public service infrastructure on Obi Island," concluded Stevi Thomas.


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