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Rare Saltwater Lakes Filled with Jellyfish Found in West Papua



Jellyfish under saltwater lake in Raja Ampat, West Papua –


Jayapura, Jubi – Jellyfish are a common sight in ocean waters, but they also live in rare marine lakes, like this one, recently discovered in West Papua, Indonesia. Marine lakes are small bodies of seawater that are completely landlocked. There are about 200 marine lakes in the world, and less than twenty are known to contain jellyfish.On recent expeditions in Indonesia, National Geographic Explorer Lisa Becking documented four new lakes containing the sea creatures. Due to their isolated nature, each lake is a unique ecosystem. They are also warmer and saltier than the ocean, providing a glimpse into how climate change and warming waters might affect sea life in the future.

Picture yourself diving through a serene body of water in tropical Indonesia. Rays of sunlight penetrate the surface of the water, heating and brightening it up. As you breaststroke through the salty surf, gelatinous, tentacled creatures begin popping up all around you, their pale-yellow bodies contrasting with the bright blue of the water.

Suddenly, you’re swimming alongside countless semi-translucent, coffee mug-size golden jellyfish. Unlike some larger, more venomous species, these jellies can’t hurt you. Golden jellyfish, like moon jellies, have a sting so minor humans can’t feel it.

There are about 200 marine lakes, or small, landlocked bodies of seawater, known to science. Of those lakes, only a handful contain jellyfish, like famous Jellyfish Lake in Eil Malk. Often found in Palau, Vietnam, and Indonesia, the remote locations of these lakes make them difficult for researchers to study. (Read about why Jellyfish Lake is running out of jellyfish.)

But with the help of the National Geographic Society, marine biologist Lisa Becking did just that. From her base at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands, Becking gathered up a team of like-minded researchers to travel to the Raja Ampat islands in West Papua, Indonesia. On expeditions in 2011 and 2016, they studied the lakes, documenting biodiversity and mapping out ideas for conservation management.

Swimming With Jellies
Marine lakes are formed in karstic landscapes that have been carved out of eroded limestone. The area of the expedition has plentiful karst deposits, making it prime real estate for marine exploration.

Between trekking and gathering samples, Becking and her team filmed two hours of aerial footage of local marine lakes. Then, after combining that footage with Google maps and old Dutch maps, they found 42 marine lakes that had not been documented before.

“They’re kind of like island systems,” Becking says, referring to how salty marine lakes are isolated from the rest of the sea. “Islands play a crucial role in biology generally because they’re an ideal setting for studying how biodiversity is formed. They’re kind of like these giant natural experiments.”The team visited 13 of these lakes during the expeditions and found that four contained jellyfish.

Protected from winds by surrounding cliffs, the lakes are meromictic, meaning they’re composed of layers that don’t intermix. They’re about 65 feet deep, and they have an anoxic layer about 26 feet down, where the pitch-black water is oxygen-depleted and filled with bacteria. Below that is a layer of hydrogen sulfide, which is dangerous to human divers.

Up at the top, the waters are shimmering with colorful golden jellyfish and moon jellies. Throughout the day, these species make daily migrations to follow the sun, congregating tightly in the sun-filled parts and avoiding the shaded sections. (Related: “Blue Herons, Jellyfish, and Other Animals With Daily Commutes“)

“This surface is just bubbling with the [grown] medusa,” Becking says. “It’s quite a colorful event.”

Beyond the jellyfish themselves, more than a hundred species of sponges inhabit the lakes’ coasts, colored in shades of purple, pink, blue, and yellow. Becking and her team discovered at least four new species during their expeditions. (Related: “The Surprisingly Complicated Construction Work of Simple Sponges“)

Becking swam alongside jellyfish before these expeditions, and she recalls the experiences as frightening and counterintuitive—we are taught from a young age to avoid jellyfish because of their hurtful stings. But with their harmless jellies, these lakes are actually quite the tourist destination because they allow divers to swim alongside the creatures without the threat of being stung. Since that first swim, Becking has bopped with jellyfish many times. (Related: Watch a sea turtle eat a jellyfish like spaghetti.)

“They move on their own and they’re just sort of bumping against you all the time,” Becking says. She adds that the jellies tend to hover around her water-proof notepads when she’s jotting down notes, “very much like a cat, although I don’t think they’re actually asking for attention like cats do.”

The next step for Becking and her team is to go back into satellite images from the 1970s onward. From that data, they’ll look at the color of the lakes—an indication of if there are jellyfish or not—and see how those shades change over time and why. They may be able to link this data with changing temperatures.

“There’s still a lot more to explore in the sea,” Becking says, “and I do think that kind of exploratory work does lead to a better understanding of the ecosystem.”

Preserving Blooms
The ecosystems that marine lakes host are fragile. Isolated but still maintaining subterranean connections to the sea, the lakes are particularly susceptible to climate change. Their waters are warmer and saltier than the open ocean, which provides a sneak peek into how oceans might fare if climate change continues at its current rate. (Related: “Climate Change May Shrink the World’s Fish“)

Jellyfish have lived in the ocean longer than any other macroscopic creature, and climate change could actually be to their advantage, because they tend to thrive in warmer waters. But not all marine lakes have medusas, the bell-shape organisms you probably think of when the word “jellyfish” comes to mind. Some lakes have young polyps that hang out on the lake bottom, or reduced populations all together. Salinity and warm temperatures might also influence jellyfish numbers.

These warm conditions also make for unique species. Of all the species the team sampled, at least a quarter of them seem to be endemic.

When Becking and her team traveled to the area, they had to coordinate their own travel. Now, there’s a ferry that goes out to the islands twice each week, making them more accessible to tourists. The lakes are often used as aquaculture ponds, and are plagued by invasive species and litter.

The team has presented its findings to local and regional governments, and now they’re working together on conservation management for the area. On a local and regional level, they plan to carry out monitoring efforts next month.

“Ecotourism can be very beneficial,” Becking says. “At the same time, if there’s no regulation, it could very easily be too much. The problem is we don’t know how much is too much.” (*)


Activists fear Indian proposal for coal reserves in Indonesian-ruled Papua




Forest clearance and plantation development in PT Megakarya Jaya Raya (PT MJR) palm oil concession in Papua. The region is home to the world’s third-largest rainforest, but is facing intense pressure due to the logging, palm oil and mining industries. Image: Ulet Infansasti/Greenpeace

By Febriana Firdaus in Jakarta

As it seeks to diversify its sources of fuel, India is looking to get in on the ground floor of coal mining in previously unexploited deposits in Indonesian-ruled Papua.

In exchange for technical support and financing for geological surveys, officials say India is pushing for special privileges, including no-bid contracts on any resulting concessions a prospect that could run foul of Indonesia’s anti-corruption laws.

The details of an Indian mining project in Papua are still being negotiated, but Indonesia’s energy ministry welcomes the prospect as part of a greater drive to explore energy resources in the country’s easternmost provinces.

In future, the ministry hopes mining for coking coal will support the domestic steel industry, while also bringing economic benefits to locals.

Rights activists, however, fear the launch of a new mining industry could deepen tensions in a region where existing extractive projects have damaged the environment and inflamed a long-running armed conflict.

Indonesia’s new coal frontier

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Jakarta last month, joint efforts to extract and process Indonesia’s fossil fuels, including coal, were on the agenda.

India’s interest in investing in a new coking coal mining concession in Papua can be traced to 2017, when officials from the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute (CMPDI) and Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research (CIMFR), both Indian government institutes, met with Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources in Jakarta.

The bilateral plan was announced by then-ministry spokesman Sujatmiko after the first India Indonesia Energy Forum held in Jakarta in April 2017. “The focus is on new territories in Papua,” he said.

To follow up, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources sent a team to India in early May. The current energy ministry spokesman, Agung Pribadi, who was part of the delegation, told Mongabay that officials from state-owned energy giant Pertamina, major coal miner PT Adaro Energy, and state-owned electricity firm PLN also joined the meeting.

The Indonesian team presented research outlining the potential for mining high-caloric content coal in West Papua province, and lower-caloric coal in Papua province.

According to the team’s report, only 9.3 million tons of reserves have so far been identified. By contrast, Indonesia as a whole expects to export 371 million tons of coal this year. However, the true extent of coal deposits could be larger, said Rita Susilawati, who prepared the report presented during the meeting and is head of coal at the ministry’s Mineral, Coal and Geothermal Resources Centre. “Some areas in Papua are hard to reach due to the lack of infrastructure. We were unable to continue the research,” she explained.

During the visit, Indian and Indonesian officials discussed conducting a geological survey in Papua, Agung said. India would finance the survey using its national budget. With Indonesian President Joko Widodo prioritising infrastructure investment, the energy ministry has few resources to conduct such surveys.

Expected privileges

Indonesia also anticipates benefiting and learning from India’s experience in processing coking coal.

In exchange, India expected privileges from the Indonesian government, including the right to secure the project without a bidding process, Agung said.

Indonesia denied the request, and the talks were put on hold. Approving it would have been too risky, Agung said, since the bidding process is regulated in Indonesia. “We recommend they follow the bidding process or cooperate with a state-owned enterprise,” Agung said.

India’s ministry of coal did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Energy and mining law expert Bisman Bakhtiar said there was still a chance India could get the rights to develop any resulting coal concessions without having to go through an open bidding process. “It can proceed under the G-to-G (government-to-government) scheme by signing a bilateral agreement,” he said.

This form of agreement would supersede the ministerial regulations requiring competitive bidding, Bisman explained, although he said any such agreements should emphasise that any projects must be carried out according to local laws.

There is precedent in Indonesia for G-to-G schemes bypassing the open bidding process, Bisman said. For example, multiple projects have been carried out on the basis of cooperation agreements with the World Bank and Australia. In another instance, Indonesian media mogul Surya Paloh imported crude oil from Angola via a bilateral cooperation agreement with Angola’s state-owned oil company Sonangol.

Draft law

A draft law currently being discussed in the House of Representatives could also smooth the path for India. It says that if there is agreement between Indonesia and a foreign government to conduct geological studies, the country involved will get priority for the contract.

However, this would still require the country to meet market prices. “We called it ‘right to match.’ If there are other parties who offer lower prices, then they should follow that price,” Bisman said.

Another option would be for India to appoint one of its local companies to work with Indonesian private sector giant Adaro or state-owned coal miner PT Bukit Asam. Such a deal could be conducted as a business-to-business (B-to-B) agreement, and would be legal according to Indonesia’s Energy Law.

Or, Indonesia could assign a state-owned firm like Bukit Asam to work with India based on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by both countries.

“But all these options have a potential risk,” Agung said. “They can be categorised as collusion by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).” He said a conventional bidding process should be prioritised.

Bisman said India needed to consider other risks, such as the social and political situation in Papua. The region is home to an armed pro-independence movement and has faced decades of conflict around the world’s largest and most profitable gold and copper mine, Grasberg, owned by US-based Freeport McMoRan.

‘Land grab’

Despite the presence of the mine, Papua remains Indonesia’s poorest province, with some of the worst literacy and infant mortality rates in Asia. Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), a state-funded body, has characterised Freeport’s concession as a “land grab,” for which the original stewards of the land, the Amungme and Kamoro indigenous people, were never properly consulted or compensated.

The Indonesian energy ministry’s own research says that any project must take into account the impact on Papua’s indigenous peoples, and must factor in specific local concepts of land ownership, leadership and livelihood.

Franky Samperante, executive director of rights advocacy group Yayasan Pusaka, said he was worried about the plan. “It is way too risky,” he said, pointing to the social and environmental fallout of the Grasberg mine.

“There should be communication between the mining company and indigenous Papuans,” he said, warning Jakarta to carefully calculate the social, environmental and national security impacts.

Local indigenous people need to be meaningfully involved in the decision-making process, he said, especially since the mining would occur in and near forests where indigenous people live and gather and hunt their food. (*)



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Fish aggregating devices damages Papua’s marine ecosystem




Illustration of a beach in Papua. – Jubi/Hengky Yeimo

Jayapura, Jubi – John Gobay, a member of Papua House of Representatives from Meepago customary area, said fish aggregating devices (FADs) are possibly damaging the marine ecosystem in Papua.

These FADs neglect the local wisdom of indigenous Papua,” Gobai told Jubi on Monday (4/6/2018). Therefore, he proposes regulation and agreement on the prohibition of FADs in the Papua’s coastal areas.

“Moreover, the tools used by non-Papuan fishermen who give a monthly payment to someone rather than paying a contribution to indigenous tribes as well as to the customary landowner,” he explained.

It often raises a conflict between the local and migrant fishermen, like what happened in Pomako, Mimika, on 1 August 2017. “Consequently, indigenous fishermen often exclude from the fishing spaces that are already occupied by non-Papuan fishermen,” he said.

A Papua fisherman Musye Weror appreciates Gobai’s idea to seek an establishment of the regulation for native fishermen. “We’ve been having a lot of drawbacks over the years because we still use the traditional fishing tools,” said Weror. (*)

Reporter: Hengky Yeimo

Editor: Pipit Maizier

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Papua House of Representatives will promote Ambaidiru coffee




Secretary of the Papua House of Representatives, Juliana J Waromi (standing) with several members of the House of Representatives during a meeting with the community, coffee farmers, and officials of Ambaidiru – Jubi / Doc

Jayapura, Jubi – The Secretary of the Papua House of Representatives Juliana J Waromi said the house is ready to help the community of Ambaidiru Village, Kosiwo Sub-district, Yapen Islands District to promote their coffee.

She said she and several legislators visited the 60 hectares Ambaidiru coffee plantation area a few days ago in response to the aspiration of the local community. “I want to see it directly. If it’s good, I will help them to find a market. Based on my experience working with the Investment Coordination Board Papua for three years, I could promote the coffee to abroad,” said Waromi on (5/6/2018).

A coffee farmer Yulianus Maniamboy recently told Jubi that the coffee plantation in Ambaidiru firstly introduced in the Dutch era. The Dutch tried to plant it and worked. Ambaidiru coffee is now over 50 years old.

“Instead of in groups, we manage our commodity individually. Farmers dry their coffee by their own. There is no control, not centralised and consequently, the quality of coffee is still very varied. However, in the past years, we could produce a ton of coffee per month. That’s because there was no disruption and the management of the cooperative was good,” he said. (*)


Reporter: Arjuna Pademme

Editor: Pipit Maizier

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