Friday, August 29, 2008

Unexploded WW II ordnance still pose threats to human population and fragile marine habitat

by Charles Roring

The northern part of West Papua has many dive sites. Shipwrecks in Manokwari are considered the best in Indonesia. Coral reefs with abundant fish species can be found in Mapia islands, Cendrawasih National Marine Park, and Raja Ampat islands.


Photographer: Dr. James P. McVey, NOAA Sea Grant Program

During WWII both the allied forces led by the Americans and the Japanese forces dropped thousands of bombs in West Papua. Their targets are their enemy’s military bases, ships and even caves in the jungles. These bombs destroyed ships at sea and everything on the ground.

Today, sunken ships and airplanes in West Papua have become wonderful diving sites which attract recreational divers from around the world. In my previous article I wrote about the marine pollution threat posed by sunken tankers in the Pacific region. There is another threat left by WWII legacy from its ordnances.

Not all of the bombs, during the air raids, exploded. Some did not explode and stay intact for years. Time passed by and these bombs are corroding rapidly. Although the outer skin looks corroded but the ammunition inside is still active.

Some local fishermen in Papua took and cut them to take their explosive materials. These chemical substances are used to make fish bomb. The locals call it dopis. They filled small bottles, usually used injection bottles, with the explosives and plug it with wood or other water resistant insulators. After that they insert a short straw. Then, they fill some matches powder into the straw to make it as a fuse.

To use the fish bomb, the fisherman rows its canoe to coral reef where there are many fishes schooling. With his cigarette, he will light the fuse and immediately drop it to The fish school playing in the corals. When the bomb explodes, it will kill all the fish and destroy the corals.

Until now, unexploded WW II ordnances in West Papua can still be found in the jungles and at sea. They pose threats not only to human population but also to coral reefs. Reports said that some bombs exploded and killed the fishermen who were cutting them.

Cleaning up is not easy to be conducted due to the size of the area but fishermen have to be told that the use of bombs is dangerous both for them and the marine life environment.