Offshore tin mining on Bangka Island pollutes fishing grounds, driving fishermen away. Participatory development is key to economic growth and equality.

It’s been three months since Yaman and other fishermen sailed out to sea. They dock their boats on the shore. Bad weather and dwindling fish catches in recent months have forced many fishermen from Sinar Baru Village, Bangka District, Bangka Belitung, to stop sailing.

“What else can we do? There are no fish, and the weather is also terrible,” said Yaman, when we met him in late September in the Matras Beach area.

That afternoon, Yaman and a few of his peers gathered in a hut on the beach. “When I’m not fishing, I usually work in the plantation or as a construction worker,” said the 45-year-old man.

Yaman and his colleagues at Matras Beach are among the few fishermen in Bangka waters who remain loyal as fishermen amidst the onslaught of tin mining that has begun to encroach on the coast. Others have changed professions to become tin miners or mining laborers.

Most of them mine tin in Matras Beach using suction (PIP) vessels. The mining location is less than two kilometers from Matras Beach.

“Matras Beach used to be very famous and crowded. Singer Arafiq [a dangdut singer from the 1980s and 1990s] once performed here. Now there are more mines here,” said Yaman, recalling Matras Beach’s glory in the 1990s.

Tin mining on the coast began in the 2000s and became more massive in mid-2019-2020. In Matras Beach alone, tens to hundreds of suction vessels are scattered in the sea, dredging sand containing tin material. This number does not include larger suction vessels, totaling around 17 units.

The mud from sand dredging in the sea flows into the catchment area. This is usually a fish gathering place. Yaman said, since the tin mining boom, fish catches have decreased dramatically because the fish catch area is polluted by mud.

He said that before 2020, fishermen could harvest tens to 100 kilograms of fish or squid in one night. But now, bringing home two to three kilograms of squid is difficult.

“In the past, you could get 100 kilograms a night. Just multiply that by IDR75,000 per kilogram. Now there are no more fish, the waves are high, and [the fishing area] is affected by mud,” he said.

Fishing boats have also decreased dramatically. Before 2020, there were around 70 fishing boats on Matras Beach. Now the number has shrunk to 20 boats.

Matras Beach fishers did not stay silent. They have repeatedly protested to demand that the Bangka Belitung administration pay attention to their condition. Moreover, mining in the sea is still not decreasing, it has become more rampant.

“Some of us who demonstrated against mining were arrested, detained for three months, accused of being terrorists. It was the Brimob (special forces) who [called us] terrorists,” said Taufik, another fisherman.

The administration has issued a regulation that determines mining zones, tourism zones, and fishing zones in Bangka waters. However, this regulation is difficult to implement at sea. This is because mud or tin mining waste still flows into the fishing zone and impedes fishing activities.

Fishermen, said Taufik, cannot afford to travel further than one mile off the shore or farther from the tin production zone. The farther out to sea, the steeper the cost of fuel oil (BBM) for fishing operations. Not to mention there are safety risks because their small boats will not be able to weather the open sea conditions.

The conflict over living space between tin mining and fishermen has also affected the social ties of coastal villagers in Bangka. “Since mining entered, many brothers and neighbors did not get along. Some are pro-mining, some are against,” said Yaman.

Yaman, Taufik, and a few others chose to continue their work as fishers. For Yaman, switching professions to become a miner or another profession is not as easy. To venture into mining, one needs large capital to buy production equipment such as suction vessels and tin suction machines.

“If we want to do other jobs, what kind of job? We didn’t go to school,” he said.

For Taufik, fishing is not just a matter of economics. Fishing is not the most popular economic sector in Bangka compared to tin mining. But being a fisherman is part of a tradition he has inherited since birth. Not only emotional and historical ties, being a fisherman for Taufik and his colleagues also helps preserve the coastal area from environmental damage.

“Fishing comes from our hearts. We were born to fishermen parents. Besides, we can’t afford to become tin miners,” said Taufik.

Taufik now does not expect much from the government. All efforts to protest against mining came to no avail. The administration still prioritizes tin mining over fisheries. “There is no hope anymore. We accept [the current conditions], where else can we [fight]?” said the 36-year-old man.

Logic behind mining policy

An expert believes the logic behind regional development practices in the tin mining sector in coastal areas is inaccurate. The local administration has issued regulations governing tourism, mining, and fisheries zones in Bangka’s coastal areas.

However, the division of these zones is considered only suitable on land, not in the ocean. This is because tin mining tailings or waste flow into fisheries and tourism areas, which means it does not recognize zone restrictions.

The logic of land is used at sea. Mining zones can be mitigated easily on land. But we can’t use the [same] boundary at sea,” said Alfath Bagus Panuntun, a lecturer at the Department of Politics and Government at Gadjah Mada University.

In fact, he said, there is a loophole for the government to provide space for the mining sector without excluding fishermen. The government can assign mining sites farther off the coast that are not accessible to fishermen.

Some of us who demonstrated against mining were arrested, detained for three months, accused of being terrorists. It was the Brimob (special forces) who [called us] terrorists.


However, its implementation will require large costs and infrastructure. Panuntun referred to the condition in the 1990s when tin mining that used dredging vessels off the coast did not affect fishing areas. It was believed to be more environmentally friendly.

“The problem is there are many leaks in the tin sector. If for example that can be resolved, it can cover [high costs]. How mining can then be shifted to places that have no impact on fishermen,” said Panuntun.

“The dredging vessel has less potential [environmental impact], it’s farther off the shore. That could be an alternative. For me, regulation is most important. People are managed, the tourism zone remains, and the mining zone is moved a little further away.”

Panuntun believes another critical policy is participatory development. What happened to some fishermen in Bangka is a form of alienation and development by the state that is not participatory. Current mining policies ignore vulnerable communities.

“The people involved in the development [of tin mining] are gaining more capital, while those excluded are getting further sidelined [from development]. This is not only happening in Bangka, but also in Rempang, in Lumajang where the Salim Kancil case happened,” he said.

In Panuntun’s view, the state should provide justice to marginalized or vulnerable groups, such as coastal communities impacted by mining. The state is obliged to protect vulnerable groups because according to him, the state’s presence in society is realized in the form of policies that protect their livelihoods.

Panuntun said the state should be present to provide justice for marginalized or vulnerable groups such as coastal communities that are prone effects of mining practices. The state is obliged to protect vulnerable groups because Panuntun believes the state’s presence in society is realized in the form of policies that protect their livelihoods.

“We often see policy but not virtue. We often meet people but not humanity. What we want to present and see on the face of the country is a policy that produces virtue. In order to see more humanity, we need humans with empathy. In the case of Indonesia, this is not evident,” he said.

The people involved in the development [of tin mining] are gaining more capital, while those excluded are getting further sidelined [from development].

Alfath Bagus Panuntun, Gadjah Mada University

Panuntun believes it is imperative for the Bangka administration to think about differentiation or economic diversity in this region before tin runs out. He also believes Bangka has other growth potential than tin. For example, the fisheries sector with marine products such as fish, squid, and shrimp.

“Is it true that the province relies on tin alone? In various studies that I have worked on, for example, the World Bank study, countries that only rely on extractive industries, when the extractive industry runs out they will lose [economic] capabilities,” Alfath said.

“To diversify the economy, it takes time and infrastructure too. Everything needs to be prepared. Not the current model of development that is sporadic and not measurable and all done in the name of interests and money,” he said.

About the writer

Bhekti Suryani

Bhekti Suryani has been working as a journalist/editor for Harian Jogja newspaper and since 2010. She has concerns with political and environmental issues, as also data journalism. Bhekti...

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