The Banyak Islands (sometimes spelled Banjak Islands) are a group of sparsely inhabited islands located between Simeulue and Nias off the western coast of Sumatra in Indonesia's Aceh Province, consisting of 99 small land masses. The largest island in the group is Tuangku (Great Banyak), with the principal town of Alaban. Two other major islands located either side of Tuangku are Bangkaru and Ujung Batu. Tuangku is separated from Bangkaru by a fault line.
With an area of 123 square miles (319 square km), the group lies north of Nias and 18 miles (29 km) west of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. The islands have long been noted for the existence of substantial offshore coral reefs, though problems with overharvesting, damage from explosives, and recent geological disturbances have threatened these underwater resources.
The sea turtle populations in the waters near the Banyak Islands have also suffered from overharvesting. Local people have collected turtle eggs for consumption, and turtles have also been caught by poachers from Sibolga. They hunt turtles for the lucrative export market in turtle meat. Other species in danger from overharvesting include the giant clam and the dugong.
The island group had a population of 6,570 persons at the 2010 Census. Most of the islands are uninhabited, and only Tuangku and the small islets of Balai and Baguk (northeast of Tuangku) have any significant population.
Pulau Banyak District is administratively divided into seven "villages", listed below with their populations at the 2010 Census:
- Asantola (562)
- Ujung Sialit (Point Sialit) (1,093)
- Pulau Baguk (Baguk Island) (1,358)
- Pulau Balai (Balai Island) (1,608)
- Teluk Nibung (Nibung Bay) (950)
- Haloban (830)
- Suka Makmur (169)
Earthquakes and tsunamis
The island group was significantly affected by the deadly 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The quake's epicenter was located only a few hundred kilometres north of the island group. Along with Simeulue and Nias, the Banyak Islands absorbed the shock waves and shielded a lot of damage from the Mentawai Islands. The eastern islands were affected the most due to the poor construction of buildings, as many structures contained timber instead of concrete. As many as 300 residents of the island group died as a result of the tsunami.
The 2005 Sumatra earthquake was located slightly east of Bangkaru, which was the closest island to the epicenter. The island was hit by a small tsunami, though it suffered little damage due to the small number of inhabitants on the island. There were no casualties or injuries. Due to the split between Tuangku and Bangkaru, the earthquake caused Bangkaru to rise and Tuangku to drop. Wells became contaminated by saltwater following the meter-high surge that hit the villages, and the tsunami flowed 100–200 meters into the dense jungle. Fresh sand carried by the tsunami adhered on the seaward side of tree trunks as high as one meter above ground level.
The area is popular among tourists on surfing holidays with some of the better waves being witnessed at Bangkaru due to the larger fetch. Another major sector of the local economy is fishing, which is based on individual small boats, particularly the multi-hulled proa. The islands support limited farming, though this is insufficient to supply the needs of islanders, and a significant quantity of fresh food is brought in from Singkil. Unfortunately, the island group's limited harbor infrastructure sustained heavy damage as a result of the recent tsunamis, and economic development will continue to struggle until new harbor facilities are constructed.
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