Archive for the ‘Environmental Education’ Category

Greater effort to protect threatened animals in Sabah

Monday, June 12th, 2017


Camera-trap photo of a Sunda clouded leopard in the Kinabatangan (copyright: DGFC)

KOTA KINABALU: The recent death of one of the last three Sumatran rhinoceroses in Sabah should prompt harder work on the conservation of endangered species in Sabah such as the Sunda clouded leopard, former deputy prime minister Tun Musa Hitam said.

“Let us learn from this and work even harder to save as many of our endangered species as humanly possible,” said the chairman of the Yayasan Sime Darby which is the main benefactor of an extensive research towards conserving the Sumatran rhino, proboscis monkey, Bornean banteng (wild buffalo) and the Sunda clouded leopard.

Puntung the Sumatran rhinoceros died of cancer recently and its much publicised death was a reminder of threats to iconic wildlife species caused by habitat loss and forest fragmentation.

The Sabah Wildlife Department and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) are organising a 3-day workshop of experts and hope to come out with a Sunda Clouded Leopard Action Plan.

DGFC Director Dr Benoit Goossens revealed that in 10 years of extensive surveys all over Sabah, it is estimated that there are about 700 Sunda clouded leopards, an animal Tun Musa described as ‘my favourite … Due to its sheer beauty’.

DGFC has been funded by Sime Darby Foundation (SDF) since 2011. It is in the midst of drafting an action plan on the conservation of proboscis monkey.

The effort is also participated by the Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Montana and Leibniz Institute of Zoo and Wildlife Research.

The areas covered by field teams and researchers included the Crocker Range, Tawau Hills, Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Kinabatangan, Malua, Ulu Segama and Maliau Basin.

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Study: Rapid development causing heat effect

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

PETALING JAYA: Temperature differences between parts of Kuala Lumpur and its neighbouring rural areas have been found to be as high as 10°C and the gap is widening, research has shown.

This is causing heavier rainfall, resulting in more severe flash floods and hotter temperatures in the city and suburbs than surrounding areas. Ironically, the rainfall is heavier in the cities than in rural areas such as Hulu Langat, where the dams are located.

Climate expert Prof Datuk Dr Azizan Abu Samah from Universiti Malaya said this was due to the “urban heat island” effect, where cities get increasingly warmer compared to surrounding rural areas due to rapid development.

“Due to the increased development of Greater Kuala Lumpur, the urban heat island or hot areas are growing,” he said.

The differences in temperatures between urban and rural areas are also widening by 0.4°C per decade.

Apart from getting hotter, the country’s urban areas are also likely to get heavier rainfall as more rain can occur when a bubble of heated air forms over a very warm area.

Citing a 2014 study on the urban heat island effect in the Klang Valley by fellow academic Dr Illyani Ibrahim, Dr Azizan said Petaling Jaya received increasingly more rain between 1983 and 2007 compared to Hulu Langat, located just 22km away.

The increased rainfall in urban areas, Dr Azizan warned, could add to the risk of flash floods in cities.

“This is because much of the rainwater cannot be absorbed into the ground in built-up areas, causing it to remain on the surface, especially where drainage is poor,” he said.

Dr Azizan was commenting on the findings of a World Bank report which found temperature anomalies in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Penang, Johor Baru, Kuantan and Kota Kinabalu growing faster than the global average (see graphic).

The report, titled “Achieving a System of Competitive Cities in Malaysia”, said climate change is expected to worsen the urban heat island effect and cause more heatwaves and heavy rain in urban areas.

Heavy and more frequent precipitation events are expected and will increase the risk and severity of urban flooding and landslides, according to the study, which was released in December 2015 and carried out with the cooperation of the Economic Planning Unit and Khazanah Nasional Bhd.

Parts of the Klang Valley, including Kuala Lumpur, have become notorious for being inundated during heavy downpour in recent months.

In one of the most recent episodes, four roads in Kuala Lumpur – Jalan Bangsar, Jalan Semantan, Jalan Pantai Baharu and Jalan Pudu – were flooded following heavy rain, causing cars to be submerged in water up to their windows.

Other cities, including in Penang, have also been hit by a rising number of flash floods.

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Transforming agriculture to prevent haze

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017
The World Agroforestry Centre reports that oil palm industry wages are two to seven times greater than average agricultural wages in Indonesia. FILE PIC

THE majority of forest fires in Southeast Asia occur in states which grow palm oil, according to Global Forest Watch. Forests are cleared to make way for oil palm plantations. To save on clearing costs, farmers resort to burning.

While frameworks to stop haze are being established at the regional level as well as in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, the challenge remains to get on board the actors who currently benefit from drained peatlands — the farmers, companies and investors profiting from oil palm.

Could a long-term solution for forest fire prevention in the region lie in promoting alternative commodities that can grow in wet peatlands?

The sine qua non, or the condition without which fires can start and spread, is the presence of dry peatlands.

Peatlands are naturally wet swamps of decomposed matter. They are nutrient-rich, but extremely flammable when dry. Yet, farmers resort to draining these swamps because oil palm can only grow in dry soil.

The initiative of restoring peatlands to their naturally wet state has been emphasised by Indonesia. However, unless the practice of draining peatlands is addressed, haze will continue to be a challenge.

At the root is the choice of oil palm as the dominant crop for growing. This happens for two key reasons. First, oil palm is highly profitable and offers higher wages than other crops.

The World Agroforestry Centre reports that oil palm in Indonesia yields profits of up to 44 million to 295 million rupiah (US$3,300 to US$22,000) per hectare per annum, and oil palm wages are two to seven times greater than average agricultural wages in the country.

The other reason is the short lead time in growing oil palm, taking three to four years before bearing fruit (with some gestation period before harvesting). This short lead time reduces the risks to investors who wish to invest in oil palm, in comparison with plants such as sago, which can take 10 to 15 years before harvest.

To prevent farmers and private companies from draining peatlands, it must be economically sustainable to keep them wet. Alternative commodities that can be grown in peatlands need to be leveraged while meeting three key conditions.

First, they must grow in natural wet peat conditions. Second, they must compete with oil palm in profitability, to translate into equivalent or higher wages to farmers, and returns to investors. And, third, they must be able to reduce investor risk by having shorter lead time periods before harvest.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has already identified commodities that can grow in naturally wet peat conditions. These include sago, papyrus, wild rice, wetland taro, water celery, water spinach, and Chinese water chestnut.

Apart from these, there are plants that can grow in moderately drained peatlands, such as rice, bananas, beans, carrots, celery, corn, lettuce, mint, onions, potatoes, parsley, radish, pasture-sod, sugar cane chili, soya bean, tobacco and a few horticultural crops.

The challenge, however, is that there is limited information on which of these commodities meet the second and third conditions, of comparable profitability and time taken before investors start getting net positive returns on their investments.

Among the limited studies available, one shows that if sago was chosen as alternative crop to explore, it takes sago 10 to 15 years before it can start bearing fruit, and that the internal rate of return is up to 8.06 per cent, still low compared with 20 per cent if oil palm was planted.

Alternatively, some crops can be grown in less than a year, like radish or celery, but it is not known if there will be sufficient demand. Additional preparations may be needed, such as reducing the acidity of the soil, preventing pests and diseases, or increasing the value-add of producers through additional processing.

There is a need for more research and institutional support in improving the desirability of producing alternative commodities, in both the demand and supply side. These need to be considered in developing and implementing long-term rehabilitation plans.

Demand-side interventions include research on identifying which among the identified alternative commodities are in demand, who the buyers are, what qualities and traits they desire, and what prices they are sold at. Buyers may include domestic buyers within Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as importers from higher income countries abroad. In Japan, for instance, youth are leaving the agricultural sector, creating opportunities for countries like Indonesia to provide select crops.


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Going green through environmental education

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017


THE GROWTH … the pupils planting flower cutting on polybags

KOTA KINABALU: The Palace Hotel Kota Kinabalu is supporting SK Puun Tunoh’s green efforts.

Yesterday, the hotel presented 50 kilos of Eco Pure Organic Fertiliser to the school as part of the hotel’s Corporate Social responsibility (CSR).

The team from the hotel led by its Food and Beverage director John Malcom handed over the fertilisers to the school represented by its Headmistress Siti Mahani Mohd Aini.

Siti Mahani in her welcoming speech thanked hotel for presenting them with the organic fertiliser, saying that it would go towards their school landscape and potted plants.

According to her, the school’s landscape is extensive with various plants and trees planted around the school building. Potted plants are also used to beautify the school surroundings.

“In this respect, we are grateful that The Palace Hotel has chosen to present us with the organic fertiliser. We hope that they will keep on supporting us not only with organic fertiliser but on related knowledge as well.”

“We hope to carry out more activities with the hotel,” she said.

John in his turn gave a talk on the hotel policy as a green hotel and environmental protection as well as conservation through waste management.

“Environmental education will ensure that pupils can identify, understand and become engaged in resolving related environmental issues in future,” he said.

Some 250 pupils and teachers of the school attended the talk and presentation.

Meanwhile, the Hotel General Manager Ms Phang Joo See said as a Green Hotel and strong advocate of the 4R policy: Respect, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, imparting environmental knowledge on students are one of the hotel’s CSR.

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Rescued – only to die of poor care.

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

EXCLUSIVE: PETALING JAYA: Thousands of protected animals seized by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) have died in the hands of the authority in the past year due to mishandling.

These animals, many of which are endangered species and exotic, were being smuggled or kept illegally by local pet owners when they were seized.

A source said the lack of expertise and knowledge to handle these animals in captivity led to their death.

Among the animals that died in Perhilitan custody were 1,000 Indian Star tortoises and 10 juvenile and baby langurs.

These two species were seized from illegal dealers in mid-2016 and March 27 respectively.

Other animals that have died in the Perhilitan rescue centres include Asian Leopard Cats, small primates including endangered gibbons, and exotic white-rumped Shamas (murai batu).

The source said these animals were among many other seized species kept at the department’s National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Sungkai, Perak, and at Sungai Tengi, Selangor.

These two husbandries are Perhilitan’s main holding centres for seized animals.

The department has 11 other conservation centres nationwide which serve as holding centres for seized wildlife.

The source said many of the handlers have little or no knowledge in keeping, handling and caring for the animals.

“They are not well trained to handle these species and have little knowledge or technical expertise to take care of the animals, which are kept at the centres waiting to be repatriated to their country of origin.

“As such, these animals were neglected. They were not properly fed, given the right diet, or housed in proper facilities.

“These factors,” said the source, “caused the animals to be stressed from captivity, thus making them prone to disease and death.”

A former Perhilitan veterinarian said there was a need for rangers to be trained to handle these animals.

“Many do not know what are the best practices for the animals they are dealing with.

“They don’t have the basic knowledge such as the characteristics or even diet of these species to care for them.

“As such, the animals get sick, are stressed and die,” he said.

He said Perhilitan had its own veterinarians to deal with the seized animals but all these officers were seconded from the Veterinary Department.

“Many of us are trained in handling domestic animals and learn to deal with exotic animals and wildlife after joining Perhilitan,” he added.

Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network, says Malaysia is one of many South-East Asian countries that does not have expertise to handle seized smuggled animals in captivity.


Wan Junaidi: No haze but expect floods this year.

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

SUBANG: Malaysia will be haze-free this year due to the La Nina phenomenon, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

He said that recent Meteorological Department reports showed that the El Nino phenomenon – which brought extremely hot weather – would not occur this year, and Malaysia is expected to be free of cross border haze in 2017 because of this.

Wan Junaidi added that people living in low-lying areas need to be prepared following unpredictable heavy rain which may bring about floods this year due to the La Nina phenomenon.

He said that the Department’s reports on rain distribution showed an unpredictable pattern with an unusually heavy downpour.

“It is raining every day, the situation is worrying, and it is feared the heavy rain could cause floods. As we are aware the El Nino effect is not strong this year, and the La Nina is taking place instead,” he said.

Wan Junaidi said this to  reporters after launching the second stage of the Hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFCs) Phase-Out Management Plan (HPMP) here.

It said there would not be abnormally hot weather as experienced in 2014 and 2015 which brought about the haze.

Meanwhile, Malaysia is targeting to reduce the usage of HCFCs by 35 per cent by 2020 in a effort to restore the ozone layer compared to 10 per cent in 2015.

Wan Junaidi said the second stage of HPMP would focus on technological change by using non HCFCs alternatives in the foam manufacturing sector and banned the consumption of HCFCs in fire extinguisher manufacturing.

The ban on HCFCs would give industries in Malaysia the opportunity to improve energy efficiency and expand the development of the green economy.

The plan is implemented by the Environment Department under the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry with the cooperation of the United Nations Development Programme.

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Clean air — A human right

Friday, May 5th, 2017
There are local factors that contribute to poor air quality, such as traffic congestion, which can be addressed by appropriate urban development policies. FILE PIC

EVERY year, the Global Initiative for Asthma decides on a theme for World Asthma Day. The organisation, which has increasing awareness on asthma as one of its main objectives, chose “Better Air, Better Breathing” as the theme for this year.

This theme is an acknowledgement of the fact that although asthma is often viewed as a condition affecting the individual, there are multiple external factors that need to be addressed to improve patient outcomes — in this case, the subject of air quality.

At its most basic level, asthma is a disease in which patients have hyper-reactive air passages. As individuals, you can control the condition with medicine and by avoiding triggers. Some triggers may be easy to avoid, such as the neighbour’s cat, but others are more difficult. In Malaysia, common triggers include cockroaches, dust mites, air conditioners, tobacco smoke and air pollution.

The latter two are arguably best addressed at a higher policy level. Tobacco smoke, which is essentially a form of air pollution, is best addressed by a holistic tobacco control policy that reduces the demand for tobacco as well as that of production, distribution, availability and supply. Tobacco is unique in that when used as intended, the consumer dies. Add the hundreds of millions of smokers worldwide and you get mass exhalation of thousands of chemicals that not only irritate the airways, but can cause coronary heart disease and emphysema.

There are local factors that contribute to poor air quality, such as traffic congestion, which can also be addressed by appropriate urban and developmental policies. Moving beyond, one can begin to appreciate the necessity for appropriate government policies when dealing with energy matters at a national level and the need for intergovernmental cooperation when addressing pollution at a global level.

One such issue that the world is struggling with is that of energy policy. Europe is committed to moving away from coal as a source of energy. Although the cheapest, coal is also the highest emitter of carbon dioxide. This contrasts with Japan, which is increasing its coal use following the recent safety concerns about their nuclear-derived energy sources.

The Energy Commission of Malaysia maintains a policy that prioritises affordability for the people. Almost 50 per cent of the total fuel mix in Peninsular Malaysia is from coal, with the commission aiming to increase this to two-thirds by 2025. On paper, this makes sense as coal is both cheap and abundant, but this comes with added environmental and health costs.

Government policies will not change if both the people and policymakers focus only on immediate financial costs. We tend to forget direct health-related financial costs of poor air quality, such as increased hospital admissions and use of medicine, as well as the indirect costs to the economy from loss of work productivity and days off from school, which affect working parents.

Poor air quality also affects children’s growth, robbing them of their full potential. And, we have not even touched on the cost to our environment and effect on climate change.

This illustrates the need to think beyond traditional silos when dealing with our health and the future. However, we have to start at a more basic level. Policies usually reflect society’s current thinking and, as such, education and awareness among the people need to be increased to induce a paradigm shift in our approach.


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Semporna reefs severely impacted by fish bombings

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

Choo Poh Leem

KINABALU: Seventy per cent of the southern reefs at Semporna Priority Conservation Area (PCA) were impacted by fish bombing activities at various levels, said Choo Poh Leem from WWF-Malaysia.

In a comparison made between 2009 and 2014, Choo said more sites had been impacted by fish bombing and the severity of the impact had also increased in the southern reefs.

“More than 50 per cent of the reefs are impacted badly, namely in the high and very high categories, by fish bombing activities,” she said in her presentation during the Sabah Anti-Fish Bombing Symposium here yesterday.

The two-day symposium, themed ‘Elimination of fish bombing in Sabah: Review, Progress and Needs’, was organized by the Sabah Anti-Fish Bombing Task Force.

Meanwhile, Choo said 45 per cent of the northern reefs at Semporna PCA was impacted by fish bombing activities at high and medium level in 2014.

“But there are less sites impacted by fish bombing compared from 2009 to 2014.

“However, the most severe human impact to the northern reefs is the trash or general human waste, especially Palang-Palang site from Bum Bum island, where the local inhabitants live adjacent to the reef,” she said.

Ironically, Choo said approximately 20,000 tourists visit Semporna daily for scuba diving and snorkelling despite the shrinking reef.

Choo said there were two places in Sabah with high concentration of coral reefs, namely the Tun Mustapha Park in Kudat and Semporna PCA.

On efforts to stop fish bombing, she said WWF-Malaysia had engaged local communities to carry out co-patrolling, such as the patrol carried out by Banggi Youth Club in Maliangin Islands.

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Turtle killings driven by high demand

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

Semporna: Turtle killings are occurring in the district due to high demand from exotic food lovers in China, according to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).

Maritime Director for Semporna Base, Lieutenant Commander Maritime Kama Azri Kamil, said a turtle catcher could obtain up to RM40-RM50 per kg while the middle men sold to buyers, mostly from China, for RM70-RM100 per kg.

He was commenting on the detention of five Filipinos and seizure of 25 tortoise shells and meat weighing about 100kg on Sunday.

He said acting on information, its Kilat 25 patrol boat was deployed at Batura waters for operation upon being alerted to widespread turtle killings in the area.

“Our patrol boat managed to detain and check one jongkong boat with five paperless crew on board.

The team discovered 25 turtle shells and meat on the boat upon further inspection,” he said.

The seizures were estimated worth about RM13,000. The boat and engines and have been trawled to Azumi Jetty for further action. The five men were detained under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, punishable under Section 41(4) of the same Enactment, which provides for a jail term of up to three years, or a fine of up to RM100,000, or both.

“They have also being detained under Immigration Act for further action. We are continuously monitoring activities in waters off Semporna to prevent any illegal activity there,” Kama added.

by Lagatah Toyos.

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Traditional wisdom in environmental protection

Friday, April 28th, 2017

File pix) A study on traditional grazing practices in the Tibetan alpine meadows concluded that the light and moderate grazing resulted in sustainable yield to biodiversity.

IT is known that every society teaches wisdom to its next generation. Wisdom makes life easier as it contains experiences, knowledge, and guides people to distinguish the truth from falsehood. The virtue of wisdom lies in one’s ability to use reason, to act wisely for himself and for his surroundings. Or, perhaps, to judge correctly at the point of decision with regard to the application of experience and knowledge.

In environmental wisdom, it manifests in modest practice, revealing the many ways humans and their environment interact.

For example, the Turkana people feed their goats on trees, which were controlled by elders. The latter then decides who should be allowed to use them and for how long. This community control system allows the elders to regulate people’s behaviour towards their environment. In ancient China, the concept of harmony (he) and balance (bing) with nature isadesired practice. This includes anything, from not pulling crops up by force to keeping the water channel clean.

A study on traditional grazing practices in the Tibetan alpine meadows, which was published by the Journal of Agriculture Ecosystem and Environment last year, concluded that the light and moderate grazing resulted in sustainable yield to biodiversity.

In Islam, we learn environmental wisdom through the leadership of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). As an example of modesty, the Prophet encouraged us to eat few bites to satisfy our hunger, and if there is a need for more, it should be one third for our food, one third for our liquid and one third for our breath.

These characteristics in different societies, taken in totality and individually, have enabled people to live in harmony with nature. In turn, the combination of leadership and ethical practices has provided stability to the community.

Eventually, those good characteristics have also merged to form philosophical bases, strategies, and systems to maintain the environment. In contrast, the power of wisdom is something that has been oblivious to so-called modern people.

The reason of for such ignorance is because traditional knowledge and its culture are seen by today’s generation as backward.

Ironically, the limitation of that view does not possess enough justification for us to understand the complex interaction between societies, their cultures and their environment.

What is of most concern, is that it has focused too much on the ways in which human societies have transformed their environment, but very little on how cultural elements help maintain the environment of the communities. Although many studies have attested to “the old ways” of solving environmental challenges, or perhaps, already appreciated the incorporation of religious teachings in natural resource management, the bias towards traditional wisdom is a hard nut to crack.

How do we get to the bottom of this problem?

The good news is there are learning benefits in environmental wisdom that can be brought into our environmental education programmes. Environmental sustainability is more likely to be relevant when the modern and developed world domesticates local wisdom, local knowledge, local experiences and religious teachings. To achieve this ambitious vision is to teach students the core environmental values of any society and to nurture them with leadership skills so they can work out environmental projects with the local way of doing things.

The narrower the gap between environmental wisdom and environmental education, the more effective the environmental and social outcomes would be. Therefore, the gist of environmental education programmes is to muster transformative knowledge to drive social change, to reinvent social systems through traditional ecological religious wisdom and knowledge.

The greatest challenge is not only to innovate technologies for today’s environmental problems, but to inculcate the richness of wise ideas into today’s minds.

When a man is trapped under a guise of an attitude that gives him the freedom to take as much living resources as possible, he has neglected morality, truism, justice and equality. Wisdom needs to be incorporated in environmental education, impart positive values, and ideas that teaches man to preserve nature.

To be wise, we have to cling on to the following wisdom: that humans are part and parcel of the universe, not above creation. He must live in harmony with the environment, not with arrogance towards it. He has to view the sky as his shade, the earth as his mat, the stars and moon as his light.

by Dr Adha Shaleh.

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