No location in Sulawesi is more than 100 km from the coast. Map by Rhett A. Butler
Forest condition on the island of Sulawesi. A composite of 32 Landsat images was manually classified based upon both visual inspection and the results from several remote-sensing techniques. The 'converted' class includes all sites that are completely dominated by human activity, including urban areas and regions of intensive agriculture and plantations. Image and caption courtesy of Canon, et. al (2007).
FACTS ON SULAWESI
Land Areas: 174,600 square kilometers, making it the world’s 11th largest island (67, 413 square miles, 17.4 million hectares, or 43 million acres)
Human Population: 16 million (2005)
Biodiversity: 1450 birds, 127 mammals
Percent Forest Cover: Around 20%
Deforestation Rate: 2.35 percent annually between 1985-1997)
Causes of Deforestation: Agriculture, logging, and mining
The tropical forests—which once covered the whole island—have been broadly deforested by agriculture, logging, and mining. The process accelerated in the late 20th Century when the government began supporting commercial logging and large agriculture projects. Locals also began converting forests into cash crops.
A study in 2007 found that 80 percent of Sulawesi's forest is gone or degraded, including almost the entirety of Sulawesi’s rich lowland rainforest and mangroves. The study further speculated that little deforestation in the future is possible since most of forest land that was useful for cultivation and logging is already gone. With few attractive commercial trees, Sulawesi’s highland forests have fared better, though many have suffered from degradation.
At 174,600 square kilometers, Sulawesi is the world's eleventh largest island just after Ellesmere Island in Canada. It is famously described as a big island with no interior, given that the island consists almost entirely of four interconnecting peninsulas.
Its large and winding coastline measures 6,000 kilometers. The island is surrounded on all sides by other big islands: Borneo to the west, Philippines to the north, the Maluku islands to the east, and Flores and Timor to the south.
Politically, Sulawesi is split into six Indonesian provinces: Mamuju (West Sulawesi), Manado (North Sulawesi), Palu (Central Sulawesi), Makassar (South Sulawesi), Kendari (Southeast Sulawesi), and Gorontalo. With 1.25 million people, Makassar is the largest city on the island; it rests on the southwestern peninsula.
The strange shape of Sulawesi—five connected peninsulas with little to hold them together—was created by a collision of multiple plates originating from Asia, Australia, and the Pacific islands.
The island contains thirteen freshwater lakes including the deepest lake, Matano, in Southeast Asia.
Fishing, and increasingly aquaculture, has become important to Sulawesi's economy. Fish ponds and shrimp aquaculture has replaced much of the island's mangroves.
Other economic industries include commercial timber such as teak and rattan and tourism, which is seen as increasingly important by the government.
In 2004, 16.7 percent of Sulawesi's population were considered to be living in poverty. Most of the poor live in rural areas.
Sulawesi has a remarkable diversity of terrestrial flora and fauna and rich coastal marine life. Since the unique island sits on Wallace's Line it harbors species of both Asian and Australasian ancestors, though the majority are Australasian in origin.
On land, the percentage of endemic species is particularly noteworthy. Of 127 known mammals, 72 are endemic, making for one of the highest rates of endemic mammals in the world (62 percent). When bats are excluded—since they have better potential for migration—the percentage leaps to an astounding 98 percent. In addition, 34 percent of Sulawesi’s nearly 1500 birds are endemic.
Other fauna are unfortunately little studied. Twenty-five species of amphibian are known, forty lizards, and at least 52 terrestrial snakes. In addition, there are 38 species of large swallow-tailed butterfly, which so entranced Alfred Russell Wallace on his visit to the island. Researchers have also found 67 endemic species of fish in Sulawesi's dwindling mangrove forests.
Some standouts include:
The island's biodiversity is ripe for more discovery and study.
One of the marine biodiversity standouts is the Sulawesi coelacanth. This is the second species of the prehistoric survivor and is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List because it is threatened as bycatch. The coelacanth is not a target for fishermen.
Mangrove forests: found in estuaries and along Sulawesi's large coastline. At one time mangroves covered much of the coastlines, but most of these have been lost.
Montane forests: rising above 1,000 meters these forests are some of the most intact forests in Sulawesi. Lower montane forests are primarily made up of oak and chestnut species, while upper montane forests support a variety of conifers.
Monsoon forests: this unique forest type is little-studied. It receives the lowest amount of rain in all Indonesia and is able to survive long droughts. However, much of this forest type has been lost to grazing land.
Ultrabasic forests: a unique forest type that grows on nutrient-poor ultrabasic soil with little plant diversity, but high endemism since unique plants—like pitcher plants—have evolved to fill this niche. Ultrabasic forests are made up of short twisted trees. Few fauna live here.
Limestone forests: shallow soil and steep slopes make these forests low both in abundance and diversity. They are home to some endemic species like snails.
Peat swamp forest: though Sulawesi only has small areas of peat swamp forests they contain high biodiversity, especially of birds.
Freshwater swamp forests: like peat swamp forests, freshwater forests only cover a small area of Sulawesi. They are made up of palms, pandans, and pitcher plants.
Over 95 percent of Sulawesi's mangrove forests and lowland forests are disturbed. In less than a decade—between the mid 1980s and 1993—Sulawesi mangroves have been decreased by over 60 percent in part due to aquaculture for seafood such as shrimp.
Wetlands have suffered even worse: 99 percent of the island's wetlands are either gone or damaged.
Current rates of forest loss are lower than much of Indonesia, but this is primarily because much of the island's lowland forest was already gone by as early as 1985.
Forest loss is due primarily to logging and conversion. Beginning in the 1970s the government began supporting large-scale logging and vast agricultural projects. Since then migrants from urban areas to the countryside have converted large tracks of forest into cash crops such as coffee and cacao.
Since montane forests contain very few commercial species, they are relatively safe from loggers, but hunting, fires, and erosion due to cleared areas remain major threats.
Pollution and habitat destruction from mining poses a threat to biodiversity and ecosystem health. Mining is even reported to occur within the boundaries of protected areas.
Bushmeat hunting and poaching is a large issue for a number of endangered species, including anoa, babirusa, black crested macaques, and the maleo since its eggs are poached.
South Sulawesi, as opposed to north and central, is serviced by few parks and protected areas, leaving species and forests there particularly vulnerable.
Central Sulawesi contains the most well-known park on the island, Lore Lindu National Park spanning 229,000 hectares. It is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
On the northern peninsula, Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park protects 300,000 square hectares, while Rawa Aopa Watmohai National Park protects 105,194 hectares in southeast Sulawesi.
Most of the parks, however, suffer frequent encroachment for illegal logging, mining, and even conversion into crops. Thousands of illegal gold miners have been found plying their trade in Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park.
Sulawesi also has three national marine parks: Bunaken, Wakatobi, and Take Bonerate.
Bunaken National Park includes islands, mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs. Taka Bonerate National Park protects the Taka Bonerate atoll (and surrounding coral reefs), the world's third largest atoll and the largest in Southeast Asia. Last but not least, Wakatobi National Park is made up of island chains and 25 coral reefs.
Copyright mongabay 2009