From the shores of Indonesia’s Bangka island, miners like Hendra set out every day by boat towards a fleet of raw-built wooden pontoons off the coast that are equipped to dredge the seabed for lucrative deposits. of tin ore.
Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of used tin in everything from food packaging to electronics and now green technologies.
But deposits in the Bangka-Belitung mining center have been heavily exploited on land, leaving part of the island off the southeast coast of the island of Sumatra which resembles a lunar landscape with vast craters and highly blue lakes. acids.
The miners instead turned to the sea.
“On the ground, our income is falling. There are no more reserves, ”said Hendra, 51, who switched to working in offshore tin mining about a year ago, after a decade in the industry.
“In the ocean, there are a lot more reserves.”
Often grouped around submarine tin canisters, pontoon-ruined fields emit plumes of black smoke from diesel generators that roar so loudly that workers use hand gestures to communicate.
Hendra, which adopts a name like many Indonesians, operates six pontoons, each equipped with three to four workers, with tubes that can be more than 20 meters (66 feet) long to suck sand from the seabed.
The pumped mixture of water and sand is passed through a bed of plastic mats that traps the shimmering black sand containing tin ore.
Hendra is part of about twenty artisan miners who partner with PT Timah to exploit the concessions of the state miner.
Miners are paid 70,000 to 80,000 rupees ($ 4.90 to $ 5.60) for every kilogram of tin sand they pump, and a pontoon typically produces about 50 kg a day, Hendra said.
Timah has increased production from the sea. The company’s data show that its proven reserve of tin on land was 16,399 tonnes last year, up from 265,913 tonnes at sea.
The huge expansion, accompanied by reports of illegal miners destined for offshore deposits, has increased tension with fishermen, who say their catches have collapsed due to a constant invasion of their fishing grounds since 2014.
Fisherman Apriadi Anwar said that in the past, his family earned enough to pay for their two younger brothers to go to university, but in recent years, they have barely escaped.
“Instead of going to university, today it’s hard even to buy food,” said Apriadi, 45, who lives in Batu Perahu village.
Apriadi said fishing nets can become entangled in offshore mining equipment as they drag on the seabed to find seams of mineral that has polluted waters once virgin.
“The fish are becoming scarce because the coral where they are born is now covered in mud from the extraction,” he added.
Indonesian environmental group Walhi has campaigned to plant offshore mining, particularly on the west coast of Bangka, where mangroves are relatively well preserved.