Indonesians look to mangroves to save sinking Jakarta

STORY: Ecotourists in Indonesia are discovering the benefits of mangroves as the country pushes to conserve and replant coastal areas that have been decimated by human activity.

Mangroves are vital for megacity Jakarta, which is one of the fastest sinking cities in the world...

... and where the trees play a vital role in holding off rising tides.

As the sounds of the bustling city echo in the distance, Connie Sihombing paddles her way through the calm waters of a mangrove reserve park.

Despite living in Jakarta, Connie says she never knew Angke Kapuk Nature Reserve Park existed within city limits.

[Connie Sihombing / Ecotourist]

"I love nature. I've travelled far, yet I had no idea that close to home lies this fascinating and beautiful park. I love that in this city that we think of as messy and dirty, we can still preserve something like this."

The sanctuary makes up just a sliver of Indonesia's near-16,000 square-mile mangrove area spread along the nation's coasts.

In Jakarta, a city sinking by around six inches a year due to flooding and groundwater extraction, mangroves have been the main defense against the tide.

But development along the coast, including construction of artificial beaches, is threatening the future of the mangroves. Last year alone, around 2,700 square miles of mangrove tracts fell to deforestation.

In an attempt to offset the destruction, the Indonesian government has launched a program to restore thousands of square miles of mangrove tracts.

But those results won't be seen for at least another five years, when the trees grow strong enough to hold off the ocean.

In the meantime, the reserve park's Vice Director Andika Danangputra believes that ecotourism plays a crucial role in the effort to protect these vital wetlands.

With each mangrove planted, he hopes that appreciation for the mangroves will grow, and residents of a sinking Jakarta can breathe a little easier.

[Andika Danangputra / Angke Kapuk Nature Reserve Park Vice Director]

"This tourist park still retains its conservation area status, so supposedly when you come you learn what sort of area this is, what's the story behind it, and what can we do to preserve and nurture the forests, so that coming generations can still enjoy this, as opposed to letting the forests turn into a steel jungle. In Jakarta this is one of the biggest oxygen producer - urban forests and mangrove forests in the coasts."