Belitung is an area that is rich in mineral sources, including kaolin. The mining activities for said minerals have been going on for years. There is a kaolin lake in Belitung that has become more popular as a tourist hotspot in recent years. Learning more about the lake can help us understand the entire kaolin mining landscape in this region.
Background Story of Kaolin Lake in Belitung
This lake is known to locals as Kulong Biru. It is located in a village called Air Raya of Tanjung Pandan, Belitung. From the airport, you only need to travel for around 10 minutes to reach the spot.
The area used to be a kaolin mining spot. However, the place was abandoned by the mining company around 1971. The kaolin-rich area has become a tourist spot, instead. Because of its mining history, people are advised against going into the water as it is rich in radioactive contents.
The place is characterized by its white sand and scenic blue-green water that does not emit an unpleasant odor like other kaolin lakes in Indonesia. The remaining kaolin content in the mining area had mixed with rainwater over time, causing the formation of a body of water that turned blue.
Kulong Biru is a result of environmental damage caused by mining activities. Activists have since called for responsible mining practices in the region so that the natural ecosystem will not be harmed.
Kaolin Mining Activities in Belitung
The kaolin lake in Belitung opens our eyes to the presence of kaolin mining in the region. Belitung is one of the largest sources of kaolin in Indonesia and mining activities are still relatively high there. A comparative study showed that Belitung’s kaolin has an almost similar quality to products from China and Georgia.
Mining activities for kaolin start by gathering soils or rocks that are known to be rich in this mineral. Heavy-duty equipment is often used to perform the task. The rocks and soils are then compiled into a blunger, processing the large-size chunks into smaller clumps.
Once the chunks have become smaller, the miners will add water and chemicals—usually sodium polyphosphates and sodium silicate—into the blunger to create a clay-water slip or slurry. The slurry is then transferred into several containers and passed through a “grit” to remove coarse materials, which are larger than 44 microns.
There are three raw kaolin products typically offered in Indonesia:
This raw product contains a high level of moisture from 33% to 35%. This type of raw product is the least processed in the list as it comes straight from the slurry stage. There are still larger chunks found in the product.
This particular product is formed sometime after the slurry has begun drying out. Its moisture level ranges from 15% to 20%. Compared to a lump product, noodles are more refined. It is slightly clumpy, but there are no longer large chunks in it.
This type of product has undergone the most comprehensive refinement process. The water that remains inside the powder varies from 1% to 4%. Additionally, the dried clump has been milled to create a smooth, finished product.
Reclamation as Conservation Effort
Mining companies have become more responsible in the mining practice. This change can help prevent the formation of another kaolin lake in Belitung. Rehabilitating mining sites through reclamation seems to be a new approach in the mining industry.
Reclamation is commonly done to reverse the adverse effects of surface mining. It will not eliminate all the negative effects on the land but will minimize them significantly. There will be a modification of the land. It is not only done by placing “healthy” soils on top of the mined land, but also by adding chemicals or biomass that will revive the land.
This conservation effort is complex and can be very costly to the company. It involves the combined efforts of many experts, such as agronomists, engineers, biologists, and geologists.
A successful reclamation allows the old mining site to be developed into a new biodiversity spot. There are several success stories about reclamation, including New Bern Quarry in North Carolina, United States. This old limestone quarry has now become a wildlife site for native birds.
Although beautiful, the kaolin lake in Belitung shows us the importance of conducting responsible kaolin mining. More companies need to adopt best practices in kaolin mining seeing that this mineral will see a significant increase in demand in the coming years.