Sinking shoreline threatens coastal communities in Indonesia

MUARA GEMBONG, Indonesia, March 7 (Reuters) - Nur Anisa Rahmadani has to wade through shin-deep seawater to get to her primary school in Pantai Bahagia village on the north coast of Indonesia's Java island.

Almost every day, the sea, which used to lap the shore a few kilometers away, floods her schoolyard and classrooms – clear evidence of the threat that Java's sinking coastline poses to millions of people. 

Experts say Pantai Bahagia, or "Happy Beach," and scores of other villages and towns along the shoreline are being inundated because of a grim combination of man-made environmental destruction and climate change.

"On the one hand, we face climate change that causes sea levels to rise," said I Nyoman Suryadiputra, director of the Wetlands International Indonesia conservation group.

34 PHOTOS
Sinking shoreline threatens coastal communities in Indonesia
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Sinking shoreline threatens coastal communities in Indonesia

Children lie in water as sea water rises during high tide at Kali Adem port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 3, 2018.

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A wooden boat lies stranded on a concrete sea wall at Muara Baru fishing port in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 5, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Youth play on a wall surrounded by rising water during high tide at Muara Baru port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 3, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A man walks inside his house as it floods with sea water during high tide in Sriwulan village in Demak, Indonesia, January 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A man walks past a dead fish as sea water rises during high tide at Kali Adem port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 3, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Youth play near a mosque by the sea wall in Muara Baru port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 3, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A woman watches TV as seawater hits her house during high tide in Sriwulan village in Demak, Indonesia, January 31, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A car is seen stranded at a car park area as rising sea water hits Muara Baru fishing port during high tide in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 6, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Students walk in the yard of the Pantai Bahagia Elementary School, inundated with sea water after the tide came in, in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, February 1, 2018.

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

A man stands in front of his house during high tides in Sriwulan village in Demak, Indonesia, January 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Sriwarsih, a student, reads a book in her bed as rising sea water hits her house in Bedono village in Demak, Indonesia, February 1, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A man rows a makeshift boat to reach his house isolated by sea water at Pantai Mekar village in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, January 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A school is surrounded by sea water in Bedono village in Demak, Indonesia, January 31, 2018.

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A sofa stands in an abandoned house after sea water hit Sriwulan village in Demak, Indonesia, February 2, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A girl sits next to a boat as sea water overflows on top of a concrete sea wall at the Muara Baru fishing port in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Children play next to a concrete sea wall near Muara Baru fish market in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A man prays on top of his brother's grave which is inundated by sea water in Tambak Lorok village of Semarang, Indonesia, February 1, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Sandbags lie atop a concrete sea wall to prevent an overflowing of sea water at Muara Baru fishing port in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 6, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A man drives a motorcycle through sea water as high tide hits Muara Baru fishing port in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 5, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A worker floats her motorcycle on styrofoam to avoid sea water during high tide at the Muara Baru fishing port in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 6, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A child sits in a hammock as his mother cleans mussels at Cilincing district of Jakarta, Indonesia, August 22, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A boat passenger holds her baby as she walks through rising sea water during high tide at Kali Adem port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 3, 2018.

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Passengers of a boat walk through rising sea water during high tide at Kali Adem port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A street vendor pushes a food cart as sea water rises during high tide at the pier of Kali Adem port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 3, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Students gather in a classroom in Pantai Bahagia village in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, January 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

An electric pole is seen in the middle of land that has been surrounded by sea water at Pantai Mekar village in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, January 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A girl uses her smartphone as high tide floods her house at Sriwulan village in Demak, Indonesia, January 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Houses surrounded by sea water stand near mangroves forest in Pantai Mekar village in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, January 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A cat walks outside a house in Pantai Bahagia village in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, January 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Sainah sits in the kitchen area of her home, flooded by sea water, near Pantai Bahagia in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, February 1, 2018.

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Students walk in the yard of the Pantai Bahagia Elementary School, before tide comes in, in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, February 1, 2018.

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Fishermen repair their wooden boat as children play soccer near a new construction of a concrete sea wall in Cilincing district of Jakarta, Indonesia, August 22, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A combination picture shows students walking in the flooded yard of the Pantai Bahagia Elementary School before tide comes in (top), and students walking in the yard of the school, inundated with sea water after the tide came in, in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, February 1, 2018.

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Youth play as sea water rises during high tide at Kali Adem port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

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At the same time, he said, the extraction of groundwater for use in big cities like the capital, Jakarta, is causing the subsidence of land along the coast.

Roughly 40 percent of Jakarta is below sea level and a new sea wall has had to be built in a bid to hold back the waves.

Still, large areas in the north of the city are regularly inundated, forcing businesses to pile up sandbags for protection while food stalls feed the hungry with water sloshing around their feet.

Hundreds of kilometers to the east, in the seaside town of Demak, residents prop up their fridges and televisions on concrete blocks to keep them out of the murky water that flows into their homes during high tides.

Some have simply abandoned their homes as the sea creeps closer.

BENEFITS OF MANGROVES

Indonesia, an archipelago of thousands of islands, has about 81,000 km (50,000 miles) of coastline, making it particularly vulnerable to climate change.

It is also home to more than a fifth of the world's mangrove forests, which naturally help keep the tides out. But only 3 million hectares of mangroves remain, down from nearly double that three decades ago, according to Wetlands International.

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Indonesia aims to banish toxic waste from Citarum river
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Indonesia aims to banish toxic waste from Citarum river

Environmental activist Deni Riswandani holds up cups of water from the Citarum river (R) and water from a tributary which runs through an area densely populated with textile factories (L) where the two meet near Majalaya, south-east of Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia, January 26, 2018.

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

A fisherman operates his boat at the mouth of the Citarum river north-west of Muara Gembong, West Java province, Indonesia, February 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

A worker collects sand from the bottom of the Citarum river in order to make bricks, near Majalay, south-east of Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia, January 26, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

An Indonesian soldier burns trash collected from the banks of the Citarum river during a clean-up operation, south of Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia, February 13, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Men guide a boat carrying sand past where a section of the Citarum river is joined by a polluted tributary which runs through an area densely populated with textile factories near Majalaya, south-east of Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia, January 26, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Rolls of cloth are stacked in the warehouse of a textile factory which has its own water treatment facilities located near the Citarum river in Majalaya, south-east of Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia, February 14, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Farmers plant rice close to the Citarum river near Muara Gembong, West Java province, Indonesia, February 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

A woman and a child wash on the porch of a house located near the mouth of the Citarum river north-west of Muara Gembong, West Java province, Indonesia, February 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Students walk through rice fields located in Majalaya, a town densely populated with textile factories, south-east of Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia, January 25, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

An Indonesian soldier cuts away garbage wrapped around the propeller on a pontoon boat during a clean-up operation along the Citarum river, south of Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia, February 13, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Indonesian soldiers work during a clean-up operation along the Citarum river, south of Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia, February 13, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Ferrymen guide a boat across the Citarum river, south-east of Muara Gembong, West Java province, Indonesia, February 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

A farmer works in a rice paddy near a stream which flows into the Citarum river, in the mountains south of Bandung, near Pacet, West Java province, Indonesia, February 24, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Floating fish farms are seen on the Jatiluhur Reservoir, part of the Citarum river basin, near Purwakarta, West Java province, Indonesia, February 15, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

A woman uses her mobile phone while walking in flood waters after heavy seasonal rains caused the Citarum river to flood in Dayeuhkolot, south of Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia, February 23, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Waste water at a textile factory is treated before being released into a stream that joins the Citarum river in Majalaya, south-east of Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia, February 14, 2018.

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

A woman pushes her scooter down a flooded street after heavy seasonal rains caused the Citarum river to flood in Dayeuhkolot, south of Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia, February 23, 2018.

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Women wash clothes in water from a tributary of the Citarum river in Majalaya, a town densely populated with textile factories, south-east of Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia, January 25, 2018.

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Women board a small boat used as a ferry to cross the Citarum river south-east of Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia, February 8, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

A woman sells salt water fish from the Java Sea near her roadside stand next to the Citarum river south-east of Muara Gembong, West Java province, Indonesia, February 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Men fish at a polluted tributary, which runs through an area densely populated with textile factories and where it joins the Citarum river, near Majalaya, south-east of Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia, February 14, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

A fisherman sails his boat at the mouth of the Citarum river north-west of Muara Gembong, West Java province, Indonesia, February 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

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For years, coastal communities have chopped down the mangrove forests to clear the way for fish and shrimp farms, and for rice fields.

In some places, hundreds of meters of coast that used to be lined with mangroves have now been swallowed up by the sea.

The government has scrambled to work with environmental groups to replant mangroves, build dykes and relocate some people.

But many residents, mostly poor fishermen and vendors, are either reluctant to leave their old family homes or simply have nowhere to go further inland on crowded Java.

"I hope to be able to move, but my family has lived here for decades. Where can I go?" said Udin, a 30-year old fisherman in Pantai Bahagia, 56 miles east of Jakarta.

Udin said he has had to raise his wooden house higher on its stilts twice in recent years. Nearby, the tides are slowly claiming the village mosque and cemetery.

"Only some of us are aware of the benefits of mangroves. There needs to be more collective responsibility," Udin said.

Despite the nearly daily flood at her school, 10-year old Rahmadani and her classmates are undeterred.

"I stay in school and keep up my spirits up because I want to pursue my ambition of being a lecturer," she said.

(Additional reporting by Zahra Matarani Editing by Karishma Singh, Robert Birsel)

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