Indonesia: Sumatra Deforestation Mapping Tool

There is a new mapping tool that documents the disturbing loss of forest cover in Sumatra Island in Indonesia. Sumatra, one of the largest islands in the world, is known to be the only place where elephants, rhinos, tigers and orangutans coexist. Sumatra’s rich biodiversity is under threat since 50 percent of the island’s natural forest has been destroyed since 1985 mostly because of aggressive promotion of palm oil production.

The mapping tool was developed by WWF-Indonesia, the NGO coalition Eyes on the Forest, and Google Earth Outreach.

It aims to boost transparency around land use in Sumatra, which has lost roughly half of its forests since 1985 due to agricultural expansion, mining, pulp and paper development, and oil palm plantations. Forest loss in Sumatra has put a number of charismatic animal species at risk and released massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

The goal is to make more accessible data on the island's extraordinary conservation values, the outstanding diversity of its forests, its magnificent wildlife, and the huge carbon stock locked up in its deep peat soils.

With this database we intend to increase transparency about the threats these values face, identifying the drivers of deforestation, habitat destruction, and release of peat carbon stores.

Google Earth Outreach believes the tool can guide users to verify if the claim of palm oil and paper product companies about sustainable production is true

They also hope to educate viewers about the history and impacts of deforestation on Sumatra. As the project continues, they will demonstrate how global commodities are changing the landscape, often in violation of existing rules and regulations. Members of the public – such as commercial buyers of palm oil and paper products from Sumatra – will be able to ground truth corporate claims of sustainable production without leaving home by creating their own maps with suppliers’ land holdings related to loss of forest, carbon stocks and biodiversity.

Eyes on the Forest NGO explains how internet users can build their own maps through the online tool

Users will be able to build their own maps using Eyes on the Forest’s data layers such as forest loss over time, species distribution, conservation intervention priority areas, restoration priority areas, degraded lands and government protected areas.

The new map will help conservationists understand where the deforestation is taking place, the most critical areas for intervention, and where humans and animals such as tigers are coming into conflict – vital knowledge in the fight to save what is left.

Below is the forest cover of Sumatra in 1985

Sumatra forest cover in 1985

In 2009, there was a noticeable decrease of forest cover in the island

Sumatra forest cover in 2009

Sumatra is the only place on earth where orangutans, rhinoceros, elephants and tigers coexist. But all four species are categorized as critically endangered. The Rhino population in 1980:

Rhino habitat in 1980

The loss of forest cover in Sumatra has threatened the existence of animals like the Rhino. In 2007, their number has been greatly reduced.

Rhino habitat in 2007

The mapping tool provides key facts about the unique flora and fauna in the island

Sumatra rhinos originally existed in all provinces of mainland Sumatra based on evidence in local reports produced between 1790 and 1973

By the late 1980s, their range had been drastically reduced

In 2007, the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry published that eight populations of Sumatran rhinoceros in Sumatra had gone extinct and the total population was estimated at only 145 to 200 individuals

Poaching pressure has been the Sumatran rhino’s single biggest threat


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