Peatlands are a type of wetland and are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth. The term ‘peatland’ refers to the peat soil and the wetland habitat growing on its surface. Peat is a swampy, water-logged soil that is made through the slow accumulation of dead trees, plants, and other organic material which can only partially decompose due to the volume of water these habitats contain.
These unique habitats store massive amounts of carbon, with stocks below ground amounting to up to 20 times the amount stored in trees and vegetation. Despite covering just 3% of the Earth’s surface, they store more carbon than all other vegetation types in the world combined. When peatlands are cleared, drained or burned, the carbon stored within them is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
Indonesia contains some 36% of the world’s tropical peatlands, however they are increasingly being destroyed to make room for plantation crops including oil palm and acacia. From 2000 to 2015, the country lost an average of 498,000 hectares of forest each year.
The Rimba Raya project protects 64,500 hectares of lowland peat swamp forest from conversion to oil palm plantations. The project area is in Central Kalimantan province, on the Southern coast of Borneo. This area is incredibly rich in biodiversity, including being home to the endangered Bornean orangutan.
Peatlands, also known as bogs or mires, are neither solid ground nor water but something in between. Peat is a thick, mucky substance made up of dead and decomposing plant matter. It develops over hundreds, even thousands of years, as wetland vegetation slowly decays beneath a living layer of flora and in the near absence of oxygen. Although these unique ecosystems cover just 3 percent of the earth’s land area, they are second only to oceans in the amount of carbon they store—twice that held by the world’s forests, at an estimated 500 to 600 gigatons. Protecting them through land preservation and fire prevention is a prime opportunity to manage global greenhouse gases. Provincial government in the area had previously slated the project area for conversion into four palm oil estates, and the project activity prevents this from taking place – ensuring the continued survival of the natural habitat for over 120 threatened and endangered species, and keeping the carbon stored in the trees and peatland locked away.