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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tin Mining Tears Apart Indonesian Island

SUNGHIN, Indonesia -- The coconut palms on the tropical beaches of the Indonesian island of Bangka open up to reveal a landscape so devastated by mining that it bears an eerie resemblance to the surface of the moon.

Deep craters as big as football fields pockmark the land. Smaller craters filled with turquoise water glitter deceptively in the tropical sun. The water is highly acidic.

Welcome to the tin mines of Bangka, where miners dig deep into the earth in search of tin ore -- the raw material for the metal used in coating soft drink cans and solders for computer chips.

Battling with malaria and constantly facing the risks of accidents such as drowning and landslides, dozens of miners have set up camps in this village in the jungles of Indonesia as they forage for tin deposits in disused mines.

Tight global supplies have propelled the price of the silvery and malleable metal to a record high above $14,000 per ton on the London Metal Exchange.

Yet, the miners of Bangka see little of the riches as they eke out a living on their tropical paradise.

Many locals have taken up mining after abandoning pepper farming due to low prices for the spice on the world market.

"I don't have money to start a business. I didn't even finish school," said Suhandri as he puffed a cigarette under a makeshift shelter after spending hours partially submerged in one of the small craters in Sunghin in search of ore.

The heavy machinery digging new mine shafts are a grim reminder of the devastation the rampant mining is taking on the landscape of Bangka, east of the island of Sumatra.

"Tell me what else I can do?" asked Suhandri, a 49-year-old father of five.

Indonesia is the world's second-largest tin producer after China, accounting for some 40 percent of global tin supplies.

The world's largest integrated tin miner, PT Timah Tbk, once owned the mines at Sunghin. The company refilled the craters with earth and planted acacia and cashew nut trees when it wrapped up operations in the early 1990s.

But locals began digging up the old mines in 1998 at the height of the economic crisis in Indonesia. Using pans and a constant flow of water, miners search for the gray-black tin ore that they filter out of the sand taken from the craters. The water becomes highly acidic when it is mixed with the gray-black tin ore extracted from the earth.

"Poor people like us just don't have a choice," said Andy, 25. "I will still mine but the number of buyers have declined. I am not sure what the future is going to be."

Many miners lament last year's closure of dozens of small smelters, which have been accused of damaging the environment and operating without licenses. The government crackdown against these smelters last year helped fuel tin's meteoric rise in the global market but the leap in prices has not made its way down to the miners.

Andy, who works near the provincial capital, Pangkalpinang, was startled when told the price of tin had gone through the roof. "It looks like the reality is rather different," he said.