From the shores of Indonesia’s Bangka Island, miners like Hendra set out every day by boat to a fleet of fairly built wooden pontoons on the coast that are equipped to dredge the seabed for lucrative ore deposits. Lake.
Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of tin used in everything from food packaging to electronics and now eco-friendly technologies.
But deposits in the Bangka-Belitung mining center have been heavily exploited on land, leaving parts of the islands on the southeast coast of the island of Sumatra resembling a lunar landscape with vast craters and highly acid turquoise lakes.
Instead, the miners head for the sea.
“On land, our income is declining. There are no more reserves, ”said Hendra, 51, who went on to work in offshore tin mining about a year ago after a decade in the industry.
“In the ocean, there are many more reserves.”
Often grouped around underwater tin seams, open-air pontoon camps emit plumes of black smoke from diesel generators that stir so loudly that workers use hand gestures to communicate.
Hendra, which uses a name like many Indonesians, operates six pontoons, each manned by three or four workers, with pipes more than 20 meters long to suck sand from the seabed.
The pumped mixture of water and sand runs through a bed of plastic rugs that traps the shiny black sand containing tin ore.
Hendra is among about twenty artisanal miners who partner with PT Timah to exploit the state miner’s concessions.
Miners are paid between Rs 70,000 and Rs 80,000 ($ 4.90 to $ 5.60) for every kilogram of tin sand they pump and a pontoon usually produces about 50 kg a day, Hendra said.
Timah has been increasing sea production. The company data show that its proven reserve of tin on land was 16,399 tons last year, compared to 265,913 tons on the high seas.
The huge expansion, along with reports of illegal miners targeting marine deposits, has increased tension with fishermen, who say their catches have collapsed due to the constant invasion of their fishing grounds since 2014.
Fisherman Apriadi Anwar said that in the past his family earned enough to pay for his two younger brothers to go to university, but in recent years they have barely lost.
“It doesn’t matter going to college, it’s currently hard to even buy food,” said Apriadi, 45, who lives in the village of Batu Perahu.
Apriadi said fishing nets can be wrapped in marine mining equipment as they crawl to the seabed to find seams of ore that have contaminated formerly virgin waters.
“Fish are becoming increasingly scarce because the coral where they spawn is now covered in mining mud,” he added.
Indonesian environmental group Walhi has been campaigning to stop mining at sea, especially on the west coast of Bangka, where mangroves are relatively well preserved.