Bats, birds vie for space in Pulau Rambut sanctuary
Features – June 26, 2001
By Bambang Parlupi
JAKARTA (JP): Pulau Rambut, in the Pulau Seribu (Thousand Islands) chain of islands off North Jakarta, is just for the birds.
Based on a 1999 forestry minister’s degree, the island, which is only one and a half hours from the Ancol Marina by speedboat, is protected by law as a wildlife sanctuary.
Rambut island’s unique ecosystem is an ideal habitat for various bird species. Its coastal forest abounds with pandan (Pandanus tectorius) and undergrowth. In its tidal areas one can find sea spades (Thespesia populnea) and sea casuarina (Casuarina equisetifolia). Acacia and fast-growing lamtoro, which is not native to the area, is also found here.
Mangroves and brackish water forests cover two thirds of Rambut’s total area. Its hillside has a blanket of mixed secondary forestation and the three main forest groups serve as the primary habitat for fish-eating birds. The western and northern coasts of the island are fringed with coral reefs which form natural lagoons.
“The island is dubbed a ‘palace of birds’ with its pristine condition and numerous bird species,” said Ganie Suparlan, a national conservation and environmental observer.
Some 40,000 birds of 49 species nest on the 45-hectare tract of land. Eighteen of the species belong to the category of rare birds protected by law.
About 40 percent of the resident birds are cormorants; egrets and herons constitute 24 percent, whereas heron-like birds and ibis constitute another 25 percent.
“Most of the birds in this protected zone are sedentary,” said Ganie, who is a member of the Communication Forum for Indonesian Conservation Activists (FK3I).
Bird lovers, from students to environmental activists and ornithologists, flock to the island from March to September to watch the courtship displays and the birds taking care of their young (unpredictable weather makes it more difficult to see the birds between December and February).
“As the various breeds of birds are very easy to observe there, the sanctuary appeals to tourists,” said Ade M. Rahmat, an information officer from the Jakarta chapter of the Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA).
However, there is the potential for trouble in paradise. Conservationists are concerned that several factors — both natural and manmade — may threaten the sanctuary.
“There is fear that many factors will disturb the birds’ habitat, including sea pollution and the existence of bats,” said Ade.
The latter is especially troubling, as a number of trees have died despite being surrounded by fertile areas. Bats (Pteropus vampyoris) are believed to be the cause of the problem.
Both bats and birds choose tall trees to build nests or rest. The claws of bats are harmful to tree branches and twigs. Hundreds of them hang on the trees during daytime before they leave at sunset to feed many kilometers away.
No exact data is available on the population of bats living on the egg-shaped island, but more colonies will definitely lead to more dead trees.
Another problem is garbage. Household refuse, washed ashore from Jakarta and rivers emptying into the Java Sea, gather on the sand and among the mangroves. Plastic bottles and bags, wooden items and rubber sandals are very harmful to the coastal ecosystem.
“Oil spills are often found along the coastline,” Ade revealed.
Visitors may also be a problem for birds, particularly those disturbed by noise. There are regulations in place to prevent large parties spending the night on the island and loud music is banned.
“As a wildlife reserve, Rambut island is basically restricted to limited tourism,” said Ganie, explaining that, based on Law No.5/2000 on the conservation of biological resources and their ecosystem, such zones can be used for scientific research and development, education, limited tourism and other supporting activities.
It’s even closer to Rambut from Tanjung Pasir in Tangerang, taking only about half an hour by motorboats to Untung Jawa island, a tourist transit point located beside Rambut island. The people of Untung Jawa provide rest houses for visitors.
Situated no less than three kilometers from Rambut, this neighboring islet is the reserve’s buffer zone. Sadly, Rambut and Untung Jawa lack good accommodation facilities.
Conservationists say local people may also be involved in the effort to marry wildlife preservation with their livelihood in other ways, such as acting as tourist guides, a job still taken care of by the Rambut conservation officers.