For something which takes thousands of years to form and develop, Southeast Asia’s peatlands quality as monument of natural heritage itself. Yet, this fragile stretch of wetland across much of the Malay Peninsula, Borneo and Sumatra is fast disappearing by the years; an estimated 2,700 sq. kilometers are lost each year, due to increased draining, fires, and other ecosystem changes. Palm oil plantations, the backbone of both Malaysia and Indonesia‘s agro-commercial sectors, is chief among factors.
Nusantara‘s peatlands play an integral part in keeping large quantities of carbon out of the atmosphere while providing habitat for certain species of fauna; a living, carbon sink in its own right. The world’s peatlands potentially store more carbon than all rest of the world’s other plants combined. Perhaps surprising enough is that an estimated total of six thousand species of wildlife inhabit the peatlands, most notably the Orangutan in Borneo‘s lowlands.
Peatlands, according to Earth Times, “form in wet lowland areas where lack of oxygen keeps vegetable matter from completely breaking down. The organic material piles up in partially decayed layers.” Forming at about 0.5 mm to 0.20 mm per year, it’s with little surprise that between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of original peatland coverage dropped by 41%. Dramatic measures would be necessary to protect and preserve this indispensable ecosystem.
A sign of brief relief for conservationists and nature-lovers, Indonesia pledged to conserve natural forests and peatlands beginning 2011, as part of a US$1 billion agreement with Norway. The deal comes into fruition this year, yet stakes remain high on the peatlands, predicted to vanish altogether by 2030.