Merajut Harapan Pesut Mahakam

Country/area: Indonesia

Organisation: Kompas

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 31 Aug 2020

Credit: Stephanie Adeline, Zakarias Demon Daton, Syaifudin

Project description:

East Kalimantan has been selected to be Indonesia’s new capital, but developing a new capital city could come with environmental damages to the region. We focused on the Irrawaddy dolphin, an endangered species that inhabit the Balikpapan Bay and the Mahakam River. They have faced threats over the past decade, including oil spills, increasing ship traffic, and fishing activities. Through interactive charts and maps, this project explains and visualizes the threats that the Irrawaddy dolphins have faced and how the new capital will threaten their habitats even further. This project was funded by the Indonesian Data Journalism Network and the

Impact reached:

This project helped to increase awareness to Indonesians about the Irrawaddy dolphin population and how the development of the new capital needs to be more sustainable and take into account the habitats of the Irrawaddy dolphins and other marine and freshwater animals. It generated a lot of interest on social media, because it’s the first time that anyone has ever done a comprehensive, interactive and very visual explanation of East Kalimantan’s most beloved icon. While the Irrawaddy dolphins are very well-known in East Kalimantan, many Indonesians aren’t aware of their endangered status. Since we were able to get the project published in Kompas, one of Indonesia’s largest national newspapers, we brought awareness to this issue to people outside of Kalimantan. In addition, we are also working on an English version of this story to be published very soon on Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, one of the organizations that awarded the grant for this project.

Techniques/technologies used:

We gathered data from various sources. One of our main data sources was from the Rare Aquatic Species of Indonesia (RASI) foundation, which was the only organization that has a comprehensive dataset of the Irrawaddy dolphins and other aquatic species living in Kalimantan. They do frequent surveys and sample counts, so we were able to get GPS data from their surveys to plot on the map. After plotting the coordinates, we were able to find several communities surrounding the dolphin habitats for a reporter to visit and get first-hand accounts. RASI also provided us with other datasets such as recorded aquatic deaths in the Balikpapan Bay and Mahakam River, which is important to show how industrial activities are a huge threat to their habitats.

We also wanted to map the most recent major oil spill event that happened in 2018 and how much damage it brought. Thankfully, we were able to get shapefiles from satellite imagery from Indonesia’s national space agency (Pusfatja LAPAN). Then, to show just how close the proposed new capital is to the dolphin habitat, we also mapped the three proposed zones for the new capital. Finally, we requested data from MarineTraffic for ships coming and going through Balikpapan Bay and Mahakam River. All the geospatial analysis was done through QGIS, and the presentation was done through Mapbox and its scrollytelling map template. We also visualized other data such as causes of deaths and using D3.js. The whole page was built using The Texas Tribune’s data-visuals-create kit which works well with ArchieML-formatted Google Docs, where the text lives.


What was the hardest part of this project?

One of the hardest parts of this project was working remotely in the middle of a pandemic. This was a collaboration like no other, made possible by a reporting grant from the Indonesia Data Journalism Network (IDJN) and Earth Journalism Network (EJN). Two of our team members, the reporters are based in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, so they were able to do on-the-ground reporting. The designer/developer is based in Jakarta, so we did all the work virtually and have never met. 

The second challenge was in gathering the data from different sources, since there are no comprehensive datasets yet other than RASI’s surveys, and we wanted to gather more data on the habitat threats. Keeping track of the different sources we talked to was a challenge. And once we did get the data, it required lots of processing and cleaning since some weren’t in a very clean format. It was also hard to do everything within a month, which is the deadline given by IDJN and EJN for the project’s completion. 


What can others learn from this project?

Collaborations like these are so important, especially in a country like Indonesia. We have reporters everywhere in the country, but we don’t often collaborate with each other on a cross-city cross-island basis. In this project, we were able to pool skills from everyone in the team, and it didn’t matter where we were based. It’s also important to have reporters on the ground to verify our data reporting. We had one reporter travel to Balikpapan to the communities surrounding the bay to verify what we’re seeing in the data. And finally, visuals matter. So many stories had been done on the Irrawaddy dolphins, but none have been as comprehensive, complete and visually appealing as ours.

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