We have a long-track record of working in the Southeast Asian peat swamp forests; tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, tropical moist forests with thick layers of acidic peat. They make up 60% of the world’s tropical peatlands, but are being rapidly lost and are in urgent need of protection and rehabilitation.
Peat swamp forests represent approximately 12% of the Southeast Asian land area, equaling more than 27 million hectares, of which 83% is situated in Indonesia. Peat thickness in Indonesia (Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua) ranges from less than one meter to over 12 meters, in some places even 20 meters.
Critical for carbon storage and the survival of many species
Southeast Asian peatland forests are among the last vast tracks of rainforest in the region. These areas are of particular importance for the survival of the Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii), Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), as well as the lesser-known rare species such as the White-winged Duck (Cairina scutulata), Storm’s Stork (Ciconia stormi), and False Gavial (Tomistoma schlegelii) whose small populations are mainly restricted to the peat swamp forests.
Peatlands in the coastal areas, such as on the east coast of Sumatra, act as freshwater buffers against saltwater intrusion and they protect valuable agricultural areas (on clay soils) between the peat and the sea.
The forested tropical peatlands of Southeast Asia store at least 42,000 megatonnes of soil carbon, of which 35,000 megatonnes are stored in Indonesian peatlands.
The peat soils in Southeast Asia are not suitable for agricultural use and difficult to get into. While this has resulted in low population densities, the areas are still important to millions of people for the production of crops such as rattan, for fisheries, hunting and forestry. The world’s most precious timber resources – Meranti, Rahmin and Ironwood trees – are found in these ecosystems.
Highly threatened forests
There are very few relatively intact peat swamp forests remaining: less than 10%. But even these remnants, including the less than 5% that are officially protected, are affected by illegal logging and encroachment. Close to 45% of the remaining peat swamp forests have been severely affected by large-scale developments, drainage, deforestation and (often illegal) logging. Another 45% have been destructed by selective logging and drainage. Many millions of hectares have been consumed by fires.
Wetlands International aims to reverse the rapid loss of tropical peatswamp forests. Through our research, field restoration work and advocacy, we promote the conservation and rehabilitation of peatlands. For their biodiversity, for the people that depend on them, for our climate. Read more on what we do