The road wound up the hill in large sweeping s-bends offering a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and valleys and the open sea beyond. Although the afternoon sky was filled with clouds, the rains had yet to come to the South of Lombok and the land was dry and dusty. Looking around I could see signs of the illegal gold mining everywhere. The land was pockmarked with deep holes and large trailing ponds filled with arsenic. Lines of heavy trucks crawled slowly up the steep road like busy worker ants, the back filled with crushed up dirt and stone.

lombok illegal mining

Five years ago when I first visited Kuta, there were no signs of these illegal mines. The villages I passed through were poor and empty, the men worked in the dry fields growing tobacco while the women set the leaves out to dry in bundles on the side of the road. The countryside was a place with few opportunities, where farmers lived on a financial knife edge.

gold mining in lombok

Riding through the same villages today it is obvious just how much things have changed. In the back gardens of peoples houses I could see small pneumatic crushers, the pistons turning slowly as they crushed the stone dug up from the illegal mines into a fine powder. This dirt is then packed into hundreds of sacks that line the roads of all the villages, before the gold is seperated from the soil using mercury.

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It is these ponds full of trailings that I could see everywhere. The contaminated waters full of heavy metals slowly leaching out into the groundwater. From here it is taken up in the tobacco leaves and accumulates in the rice, before making its way up the food chain. It is a ticking time bomb that the local government is currently unable to deal with.

illegal gold mining in south lombok

For the moment, there is an uneasy truce between the tourism industry and the illegal mining, but how long it can last remains to be seen. Let’s be honest, mines don’t make great tourist attractions and poisoned food makes for terrible guests. What’s more, the mines can’t be avoided. Any tourist who come to Kuta and visits the surfing beaches in the South of Lombok, even if they don’t realise it, will pass these illegal gold mining operations.

Published by Nico

Originally from England, I'm slowly traveling the world on a whim. I love traveling, have an avid fear of heights and can normally be found googling location of the best coffee shop wherever I happen to be.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Nico

    Interesting to read about the darker side of Indonesia’s economy. I myself am highly interested in Commodities, Commodity Trading and anything related to it. I also assist a lecture at the University about this topic. In one month, I will be going on vacation in Lombok and thought that given the opportunity, would also like to take a look at these mines. Do you think this is possible? Is it dangerous? What’s the poeple’s sentiment towards this? I will be traveling with my girl friend.

    Your reply is highly appreciated
    Best regards
    Marco

    1. Hey Marco,

      It’s definitely possible to visit these mines and look at them, just use your common sense on the scene. You’ll find the full range of sentiments about the illegal mining. It generally reflects how the mining benefits (miners etc.) or impacts (tourism) the individual. Good luck and enjoy Lombok.

  2. HI Nico, I really appreciate finding your report here… can you please tell me when you wrote this or when you made the visit/discovery is more important.
    Also did you find any mines using Borax instead of mercury & Cyanide?
    We are particularly interested in the impact and situation of Are Guling as we are investigating this location for a sustainable hopefully zero impact resort project… any details you might have further that you would be willing to share would be much appreciated as we hope to help the miners use safe & sustainable practices.
    Kind Regards,
    Ron

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