Red seas and no fish: Nickel mining takes its toll on Indonesia’s spice islands – by Rabul Sawal ( – February 16, 2022)

HALMAHERA, Indonesia — Yoksan Jurumudi came home with a long face after spending the whole day looking for fish in the waters off the Obi Islands in Indonesia’s North Maluku province. The fisherman dumped out his catch, but it was only enough to feed his own family. There was nothing left over that could be sold, let alone shared with his extended family.

The days when the fishermen of Obi Island would land a bounty of skipjack tuna have long passed, they say. It now takes them at least three days of fishing, venturing increasingly farther out to sea on their small wooden ketinting canoes, to bring back just 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of tuna.

“It’s certainly harder now to look for fish in the Kawasi Sea,” Yoksan, referring to the main fishing area in the region, told Mongabay Indonesia in an interview last September.

Like many other local fishers, Yoksan blames the disappearance of the fish in the waters around the Obi Islands on the expansion of the nickel industry. First came the mines, in 2007, followed since then by smelters that refine the metal into battery-grade quality. During that time, locals say, there’s also been an undeniable degradation of the environment in and around the Obi Islands.

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