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Bangka Island, North Sulawesi

Our treat weekend after Tasikoki was at an Eco resort on Bangka Island.

Bangka Island

The island has been making alot of headlines in North Sulawesi on and off during the past 5 years because of a Chinese mining company who are illegally mining on one side of the island. The island is small, and is not large enough to handle mining and all that it entails. Unfortunately as with many environmental issues that we have seen, money is the overriding factor. The company have been taken to court over the mining, and in fact lost the court case and were told to remove themselves. The problem is, that was a couple of years ago… corruption and greediness have won over the law of the land.

The couple who run the resort informed us that the mining company ‘trick’ the locals – one day they’ll offer the village free bags of rice. Obviously the villagers take it. A week or so later they will ask for people to go to work for them, as they did give the rice a week ago. If the village doesn’t help then there’s no more rice, however if they agree to send workers more free rice is promised. So a vicious circle is formed.

Thankfully there are many people (natives aswell as foreigners) who are continuing the fight and putting pressure on the mining company and the government frequently. At the time of writing the mining had been postponed for an unknown amount of time, however they still had security guards present at the work site.

It’s very inspiring knowing that people are driving for the greater good, and that there are still uncorrupted good people out there fighting for the environment.

So there is your background of Bangka Island! As these pictures will show, Bangka is a beautiful place, which makes the current environmental issues even more poignant.

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We boarded the resort’s private boat from a small rural stretch of coastline. The black sanded beach was home to many ramshackle looking huts, and these two kids who were quite excited to see ‘bule’! They were happy little things – saying ‘hello’ and walking down the beach with us, giggling together every few seconds. I showed them the pictures I took of them, and was answered with even more hysterical giggles!

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Once we had arrived we were greeted by Owen and Ulva, the couple who run the resort, and their wonderful dog Fester. Fester proved to be the best tour guide we have had to date. She showed us to our cottage, slept on our porch at night, walked with us to the restaurant at meal times, greeted us from the boat after diving, walked along the beach with us, and took us to the local village. And she didn’t even ask for a tip love her! She was a dream dog and we would of loved to have dog-napped her! However she is one of the lucky ones – she has a fantastic home and a family who loves her.

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Our cottage felt like such luxury to us – we were very excited about it especially after a few months hard graft!

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We spent a day scuba diving which was brilliant (Paul will do a separate blog for this soon) – beautiful reefs teaming with life. However we were told that a few dive sites have been lost recently due to the sediment coming from the mine – it has smothered the coral and now nothing lives there anymore.

The area is a hotspot for Dugongs, unfortunately we didn’t see any during our stay but that’s wildlife for you! Owen and Ulva told us quite a sad story about a baby Dugong they rescued from the local village in 2011 – the poor thing had been caught and taken from its mother and was being kept by a local who was charging people to have their photo with it and to touch it. Inevitably ‘touching’ was more like poking and prodding the petrified animal.

Owen and Ulva got wind of this and went to the village to negotiate taking it from them. They ended up paying for it (unfortunate and not ideal but the only way to succeed sometimes) and brought it back to the resort. They contacted numerous charities including Sea Shepard and Green Peace, and gained alot of help this way. The vet from Tasikoki also came to the island to aid the Dugong.

Another unfortunate incident, and one they couldn’t stop from happening, was the local police turning up to get a sample of the baby’s ‘tears’. It is believed the baby Dugong tears have healing effects. Crazy rubbish I know, however as it was the police they had to let them do this.

Apart from that, they were left alone to care for the animal. Apparently it did gain strength during the few months they had it, the vet would take it out into the shallows and help it swim. Unfortunately and not surprisingly it did pass away. Too much stress on such a young animal will never end well. However at least it died in the care of people who were trying to nurse it back to health.

Touchingly they buried the baby next to the grave of their pet dog who had passed a few months before, so the plight of that baby Dugong will never be forgotten.

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We went for a forest walk to enjoy the natural beauty of the island. It was a very sweaty walk, however the beauty and the peace of the island was impeccable. Again, it made us think just how precarious this environment is with the mining company literally just over the hill.

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As always we did a little wildlife spotting – there were so many skinks and lizards rustling around on the forest floor but trying to get a picture of one was hard work!

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We also took a walk along the coastline to the local village. Fester showed us the way, and was also joined by ‘Gasket’ who lives in the neighbouring resort. This guy was hilarious – his efforts to woo Fester were a complete failure and he just couldn’t keep up with her. He gets full marks for trying though!

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There is always a correlation between human settlements and litter – and we could tell we were nearing the village as the amount of litter increased. As usual the issue is that these people have no waste management system, and a lack of education regarding waste and the environment. Fortunately Owen and Ulva are aware that this problem can be resolved, and offer the villagers education regarding the importance of waste disposal, how to recycle, and the impact on their environment. Let’s hope their educational programme continues and is successfull.

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P1070728A villager with his haul of coconuts

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay on Bangka Island – aswell as enjoying a pristine beach and fantastic diving, we had an education of the destructive nature of mining, and the political issues surrounding it. Let’s hope the supporters of ‘Save Bangka Island’ drive away the mining company and stop the impending destruction.

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