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Borneo Shrimp Problem Worries French Oil Giant

by 5m Editor
27 December 2006, at 12:00am

INDONESIA - French oil giant Total dominates the immense Mahakam delta on the island of Borneo, but concern over the humble shrimp has led the company to highlight an ecological catastrophe it fears it will be wrongly blamed for, reports Iran Daily.

Overexploitation of the crustaceans has caused the disaster in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan on Borneo, research funded by Total and local officials say.

The region concerned, one of rich biodiversity, is composed of interlacing channels cutting through luxuriant vegetation and fans out over an area of 10,000 square kilometers (3,800 square miles) on the east coast of Borneo.

Sediments transported by the Mahakam River have trapped vast amounts of organic matter and created, over the course of 10 million years, exceptional hydrocarbon reserves.

According to Total E and P Indonesie president director Philippe Armand, the local population lived off small-scale aquaculture of fish farming and traditional fishing.

In a study financed by Total, Cirad, the French institute of agronomic research, concluded that conversion of more than 800 square kilometres (300 square miles) of mangroves into shrimp ponds, involved, in the short term, the degradation of the ecology of the delta, ... the appearance of diseases, water pollution and an alarming salinisation of the ecosystem.

The productivity of shrimp farming has fallen because of the damage caused to the natural environment, Bahteramsyah, environmental official for Kutai Kartanegara district, told AFP.

He estimates only 20 percent of the original mangrove swamp remains. Totals activities in the delta have nothing to do with this looming disaster but the oil giant fears it will bear the brunt of the social consequences because of its high profile in the region.

Armand estimates that in five years around 15,000 people could find themselves without a livelihood if there are no more shrimps.

Those jobless people being abandoned by all those tycoons will come knocking at our door and ask What have you done for us?, he said. We fear that we will be totally wrongly accused of being the source of the problem.

Total has decided to take the initiative and has earmarked two million dollars over five years to promote sustainable management of the Mahakam delta.

The company has replanted more than three million mangrove seedlings, organised a symposium on the risks posed by shrimp farming and is also training the villagers in more environmentally friendly methods to farm crustaceans.

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5m Editor