The peat­swamp forest of Mawas

This is the name of an area on Borneo about three times the size of Berlin. On an area of about 300,000 hectares stands one of the largest conti­guous peat swamp forests in Indo­nesia. This tropical rain­fo­rest is home to about 2500 wild orangutans.

A Step into the Future: Protected Area for Climate and Species Preservation

Borneo is one of the last large forested islands on Earth that has under­gone massive defo­re­sta­tion over the past three gene­ra­tions. The Mawas protected area has not been spared from this, as nearly one-third of the forest in the southern peat swamp has been destroyed.

Why Was the Forest Destroyed?

As part of a food supply project initiated by the Suharto govern­ment, rice culti­va­tion on a large scale was planned for Mawas in the mid-1990s. During this so-called mega rice project, appro­xi­m­ately 4,000 kilo­me­ters of drai­nage canals were excavated, which led to the desic­ca­tion of the wet peat swamp soil and provided access to the dense forests of Mawas. These canals were employed for syste­matic forest clea­ring and timber trans­por­ta­tion. What remained after the clea­ring were barren stret­ches of land remi­nis­cent of lunar land­scapes. However, the rice culti­va­tion ulti­m­ately failed, leading to the failure of the entire project.

This man-made destruc­tion has disrupted an entire ecosystem, with far-reaching conse­quences for all of us and our global climate. CO₂ and other green­house gases continue to escape into the atmo­sphere from the dried peat soil. Addi­tio­nally, the dried and exposed peat serves as ideal kind­ling for forest fires, espe­ci­ally during the dry season. This poses a constant safety risk, not only for the still-exis­ting pris­tine primary forest but also for the local commu­ni­ties and wildlife.

Kanäle wurden im Mawas-Gebiet gegraben und Torfmoore wurden trockengelegt

What is BOS doing in the peat swamp forest of Mawas?

In short, we repair this damage and restore habi­tats, not only for many endan­gered animal species (inclu­ding oran­gutans) but also for the local popu­la­tion in neigh­boring villages. Our efforts also contri­bute to the protec­tion of our global climate and the crea­tion of a livable future for the next generations.

To achieve these goals, we colla­bo­rate with the local commu­nity to cons­truct dams, which raises the water levels around our affore­sta­tion areas. This action helps rehy­drate the dried-out peat swamps and directly reduces the risk of forest fires. Once the soils in our affore­sta­tion areas have been suffi­ci­ently rewetted, we plant them with indi­ge­nous tree species adapted to the loca­tion. This approach allows us to combat the emis­sion of CO₂ and other climate-dama­ging green­house gases, as well as to absorb and sequester addi­tional CO₂ in the long term, all while crea­ting new habitats.

What are the chal­lenges for peat swamp forest protec­tion in Mawas?

The drastic inter­ven­tion in Mawas’ fragile ecosystem has created a complex set of problems. The main chal­lenges include:

Drai­nage

Water conti­nues to drain constantly from the peat swamp soils, resul­ting in lower water levels than what would occur naturally.

Fire Risk

The low water levels signi­fi­cantly increase the risk of fires. Without the original vege­ta­tion, the peat becomes vulnerable to the sun and unstable, espe­ci­ally during dry periods. Repeated forest fires create a vicious cycle because the already burnt peat is highly flammable and acts as a cata­lyst for future fires. Another major danger is that peat can also burn under­ground, making extin­gu­is­hing fires that break out chal­len­ging and posing an even greater threat.

Green­house Gas Emissions

Appro­xi­m­ately 80% of Indonesia’s green­house gas emis­sions are linked to releases from peat soils. The annual forest fires during the dry season are parti­cu­larly detri­mental to our global climate. With each fire, there is a risk of it spira­ling out of control and causing further damage to intact soil, releasing substan­tial amounts of CO₂.

Illegal Defo­re­sta­tion

To this day, man-made canals in the Mawas area are used to trans­port ille­gally logged timber to sawmills and for sale. Conse­quently, hundreds of trees are ille­gally cleared from the pris­tine forest every month.

New hope for Mawas

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More Infor­ma­tion

Restore and protect: BOS solu­tions for Mawas

Refo­re­sta­tion

Refo­re­sta­tion of degraded land stabi­lizes the peat soil. Seed­lings, measu­ring 20 to 30 centi­me­ters in size, are sourced from tree nurse­ries in neigh­boring villages and planted. After plan­ting, we meti­cu­lously clear the seed­lings of over­growth that might other­wise obstruct their access to light. This main­ten­ance occurs regu­larly over a three-year period. Due to the threat of fires in our refo­re­sta­tion areas, the seed­lings are also protected from poten­tial forest fires through patrols and the instal­la­tion of hydrants.

Fire preven­tion

As peat fires are chal­len­ging to control or extin­guish, early detec­tion is crucial. That’s why we routi­nely patrol the hotspots during the dry season. Within our affore­sta­tion area, we conduct daily patrols during this time. This proac­tive approach has been instru­mental in detec­ting and extin­gu­is­hing several fires at an early stage.

Dammbau im Mawasgebiet

Dam cons­truc­tion and rewet­ting of the area

As long as the canals of the mega-rice project continue to drain water from the area into the adja­cent rivers, the water level remains dange­rously low, espe­ci­ally during the dry season, and the peat soil becomes exces­si­vely dry. With each dam that we cons­truct, which retains water and prevents further drai­nage, the water level rises.

Commu­nity development

Toge­ther with the Indo­ne­sian popu­la­tion in the Mawas area, we have deve­loped a refo­re­sta­tion program that involves all decision-makers. We believe that conser­va­tion can only succeed through close coope­ra­tion with all affected parties, and that this is the only way to ensure a sustainable future for the local commu­ni­ties, but also for all of us.

Forest for life

Save the rainforest

Saving the oran­gutans cannot succeed without preser­ving their habitat! Mawas is a thousand-year-old peat swamp rain­fo­rest housing one of the largest wild oran­gutan popu­la­tions in Indo­nesia. Although signi­fi­cant portions of this unique rain­fo­rest were lost as part of a mega­pro­ject in the 1990s.

Now, we have a vision: To restore the forest and make it a home for even more orangutans.

Forest for life

Save the rainforest

Saving the oran­gutans cannot succeed without preser­ving their habitat! Mawas is a thousand-year-old peat swamp rain­fo­rest housing one of the largest wild oran­gutan popu­la­tions in Indo­nesia. Although signi­fi­cant portions of this unique rain­fo­rest were lost as part of a mega­pro­ject in the 1990s.

Now, we have a vision: To restore the forest and make it a home for even more orangutans.

Sonja Wende

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Dona­tions are a matter of trust

Trans­pa­rent use of funds is a matter of course for us. In September 2013, we joined the a non profit initia­tive of Trans­pa­rency Inter­na­tional Germany and signed its decla­ra­tion of commitment.