The jungles of eastern Borneo, one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, have begun to rapidly transform since mid-2022 due to the construction of Nusantara, Indonesia’s ambitious new capital. The epicenter of this transformation is an area near Balikpapan Bay, in the province of East Kalimantan.

The President of Indonesia made the decision to change the national capital from the overcrowded island of Java to the less populated but ecologically fragile island of Borneo. This decision is due to the severe environmental problems plaguing Jakarta, the current capital, such as constant floods, horrendous traffic, toxic air pollution, and land subsidence. It is estimated that 40% of Jakarta is already below sea level.

The name Nusantara, meaning “archipelago” in the ancient Javanese language, was chosen by the Indonesian government to represent the unity of the country’s more than 17,000 islands. The first phase of the ambitious project began in July 2022. It includes the construction of government buildings, housing, hospitals, schools, and other infrastructure to accommodate an initial population of 500,000 people.

Images of Nusantara, on the left on April 26, 2022, on the right on February 19, 2024. Credit: NASA

According to project officials, Nusantara will be an eco-friendly city, with plenty of green spaces, non-polluting transportation, and 75% of protected forest areas. However, environmental experts express concern about the impact this megacity will have on ecosystems as fragile and biodiverse as those of Borneo, home to orangutans, proboscis monkeys, Irrawaddy dolphins, and unique mangroves.

Although satellite images show rapid deforestation and soil removal, there is still much work to be done. The government plans to complete the monumental construction of Nusantara by 2045. By then, this utopian forest city would host over 1 million people. It remains to be seen if it lives up to Indonesia’s dream of being a green and sustainable capital.

NASA recently released photographs taken by Landsat 8 and Landsat 9, showing the rapid progress in construction work in just two years.


NASA Earth Observatory

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