Ambitious Ocean Research Project With Australia and Timor Set to Sail

from Joyo News

The Jakarta Globe

May 8, 2010

by Ismira Lutfia

The government is rolling out an ambitious ocean research and exploration expedition to catalog the country’s rich marine biodiversity and geology.

Gellwynn Jusuf, head of the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry’s Maritime Research Agency (BKRP), said on Friday the first leg of the three-part expedition would involve scientists from Indonesia, East Timor and Australia studying the Timor and Arafura seas.

He said the vessel for the Arafura Research Expert Forum would be the Baruna Jaya VIII, operated by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

This will mark the first time we’ve held such a trilateral study, which in this case is apt because these waters are common to the three countries,” said Zainal Arifin, from LIPI’s Research Center for Oceanography.

The expedition, based out of Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara, will run form May 17-27.

They will examine pollution levels in the two seas, fishery stocks and potential, and marine biodiversity,” Zainal said.

Both seas hold significant strategic interests for the three countries involved in the expedition.

The Arafura Sea is widely acknowledged as one of the richest marine fisheries in the world, and is frequently exploited by poachers and unregulated fishing trawlers.

The Timor Sea, meanwhile, is home to considerable oil and gas reserves.

Several oil rigs are already operating in the area, and exploration of potential drilling sites is also under way.

Last year, an oil leak from the West Atlas rig in the Montara oil field polluted large swaths of the sea, raising protests from Indonesian fishermen about the impact on their livelihoods.

The second and third legs of the expedition, to the south of Java and to the Sangihe and Talaud islands in North Sulawesi, will follow in the next three months.

For the second leg of the expedition, the Baruna Jaya III, operated by the BKRP and China’s First Institute of Oceanography, will depart from Jakarta with Java Upwelling Cruises to retrieve data from underwater sensors attached to three buoys floating in the Indian Ocean between Sukabumi and Cilacap, off the southern Java coast, Maritime Ministry official Budi Sulistiyo said.

The buoys have been anchored there for two years, and each year we bring back the data to log ocean conditions as part of an effort to build an accurate picture,” he said.

The sensors record currents and temperatures down to 200 meters, Budi added.

The team also will collect data on upwelling, to gauge nutrient levels for migrating fish such as tuna in the area.

Meanwhile, the Baruna Jaya IV, run by the BKRP and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will use remote operating vehicles in its surveys off Sangihe-Talaud.

There’s an active underwater volcano on the seabed there,” Budi said, adding that the water in the area runs from 300 meters to 6,000 meters deep.

He added that the extreme conditions on the seabed had fostered an evolutionary niche, giving rise to unique deepwater crustaceans living in the 400-degree-Celsius heat generated by the hydrothermal vent.

That’s one of the natural phenomena we’ll study there, besides the plate tectonics, which could be useful for disaster preparedness,” Budi said.

Two-thirds of Indonesia’s territory is water,” said Hery Harjono, LIPI deputy chairman for earth sciences. “It’s time we prioritized maritime development.”

Indonesia has 81,000 kilometers of coastline and more than 17,000 islands, according to the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

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