A businessman from the Indonesian mainland landed one day with a remarkable proposal: to make safe their deadly neighbour, the notorious volcano island of Krakatoa, hulking in the sea a few miles across the water.
When Krakatoa exploded in 1883 36,000 people died and the dust thrown up by the eruption lowered temperatures and darkened skies across the globe.
So the fishermen welcomed the offer of trenches to channel the lava and reduce the danger of the next explosion. However, when the boats arrived and the work began, they realised with anger that the kindly businessman was not renovating Krakatoa. He was stealing it.
“There was a huge barge, the kind you use to carry coal, and it was pumping up the sand through pipes,” said Waiso, an environmental activist who investigated the activity. “This is a national park and a Unesco World Heritage Site and you’re not allowed to touch it. The local people rely on the fishing and the income from tourism, and here they were taking Krakatoa away.” And Krakatoa is just one case among thousands.
With more than 17,000 islands — from the jungly immensities of Borneo and Sumatra to unnamed rocks jutting out of the sea — you might think that Indonesia would not mind if a few of them went missing. But the South-East Asian nation is fighting a losing battle against black marketeers who are, literally, making off with its territory by the boat-load.