Saturday, December 8, 2012

My Ramblings: Of Conservation and Business

As I was browsing through my previous postings and updating them, I came across the link on letter to the Editor. The letter dated October 19, 2009, was written to highlight on the potential threats to the eco-sensitive of Pulau Payar Marine Park. Reading the letter again, I can't help but to ponder that this letter was mostly written by Mandy did produce positive result in the end.  

The mainstream newspaper did not publish the letter. Thankfully, MalaysiaKini and EcoMalaysia.org did.

Before the link will be removed forever, here's the contents of the letter (is quite a lengthy one):

Pulau Payar Marine Park has come a long way since it was first declared as a Fisheries Prohibited Area in 1985 and later gazetted as a marine park in 1994. Since then the tiny island of Pulau Payar, which measures a mere 1.75 km in length and 0.5 km at its widest point, has seen a lot of development, changing its face on the eastern seafront and making it a popular destination for reef-related recreational activities such as snorkelling and scuba-diving.

A small island located 19 nautical miles south of Pulau Langkawi, Pulau Payar, once a hidden treasure trove of marine fauna and flora known mainly to the local community of scuba divers, is now on the list of places to visit for many visitors to this region, both locals and foreigners. 

This is to be expected considering the Pulau Payar Marine Park is rather well-known for its rich marine life in terms of diversity of coral reefs and fishes over small areas throughout the group of four islands - Pulau Payar, Pulau Kaca, Pulau Lembu and Pulau Segantang - that make up the entire marine park.

In the 1980s, a small Marine Park Museum, a small jetty and limited accommodation was built to house one Fisheries Department Ranger on Pulau Payar. In the 1990s, along with its marine park status, the floating platform with underwater observatory and shower facilities came into existence and was moored off the beach at Pulau Payar. A few years later, several chalets were built by the Kedah state government but the project was discontinued due to constraints of water and electricity supply. 

Instead, expansion works were then carried out on the small museum converting it into the existing Marine Park Centre; public washrooms were rebuilt to cater to the influx of large numbers of visitors, the jetty was extended and more boardwalks were put in place in the name of tourism. 

Until today, Pulau Payar Marine Park remains the only pristine coral reef environment along the West Coast of Malaysia. A study conducted in 2006 by Yusri Yusuf of Universiti Sains Malaysia found that a comparison of total species of coral reef with other islands of Malaysia has shown that Pulau Payar has the highest species count.

Coral reefs have been facing environmental stress with increasing water temperatures since the El Nino phenomenon in 1997-1998 and will now be stressed further with rising temperatures due to climate change. Increasing water temperatures interrupt the metabolic activities of the zooxanthellae that live among the corals leaving the corals bleached white. 

Coral bleaching can also be caused by exposure to chemicals, sedimentations and excess nutrients such as ammonia and nitrate from plant fertilisers and household products entering the reef ecosystem. All these possible causes will arise from operating a resort on Pulau Payar.

As of today, the chalet project has been revived and construction works commenced two months ago. As such, in addition to environmental stress, there will be increasing stress from human impacts. 

For how long can the Pulau Payar Marine Park hold its status with all the threats man continuously throws at its coral reefs and its fragile marine ecosystem?

The issue of concern is that to maintain the pristine beauty of the marine heritage of Pulau Payar, development should be at a minimum and accommodation should not be allowed for obvious reasons. 

With this happening, primary threats to the coral reefs have been put in place with increasing nutrient run-off from human activities, sediment run-off from land/forest clearing for development and increasing sanitary and waste disposal problems, which would all be contradicting to the conservation of a marine park, no matter how ‘eco’ this resort claims to be.

The Pulau Payar Marine Park is one of the most frequently visited marine parks in Malaysia. With mass tourism and the daily operations of a resort on the island, fresh water intrusion will affect salinity levels at the sea and increase sedimentation load on the corals. Shampoo, detergent and lotions also contain chemicals that are harmful to marine life.

How would sedimentation, low salinity level and nutrient run-off affect the corals?

Freshwater adds salinity stress, causing a low salinity level and increasing sedimentation load. Similarly, when existing ground cover is disturbed, large quantities of fine soil particles are carried by rainwater into the ocean. These particles decrease visibility in the waters and the sediment blocks out light, thus reducing the growth of coral. At high rates of sedimentation, all corals will eventually be buried by sediments and killed.

Nutrient run-off from human activities into the reef system also encourages the growth of algae, which competes with corals for living space and light. Added nutrients could favour algal blooms, thereby retarding the growth and recovery of corals, even stopping their recovery, and finally causing death.

Once the corals die, fish and other marine species will eventually die, too.

Is there any mandate for a reef check survey to be carried out now before construction work continues further and the resort starts operation? And will this ‘eco-resort’ be environmentally responsible enough to engage an independent party to conduct regular quarterly reef check surveys to ensure the ecosystem has not deteriorated further? Will its operations be discontinued should there be signs of irreparable damage to the corals? Would it be too late by then to reverse these damages?

In many countries throughout the world, when an area is designated as a nature reserve or a marine park, great efforts are endeavoured to maintain it in its natural state as much as possible so that the public or visitors may enjoy the true value and heritage of the park in its original, undisturbed environment.

In Malaysia, however, it seems that an area that is designated as such would often become the target of more development, making it more urbanised rather than to conserve nature in its natural heritage. The Pulau Payar Marine Park is one such example. The irony is that marine parks were created as a means to protect an area of sea (or lake) to sustain its reef resources and to preserve its marine ecosystem, which is often a very sensitive environment. 

It would be recommended to issue a stop-work order immediately and move the resort out from Pulau Payar. At the same time, the authorities should look into restricting visitor numbers in a move to conserve and protect this marine ecosystem.

Looking at the bigger picture, the state government and local development authorities should also check themselves on the amount of development allowed on both Pulau Payar and Pulau Langkawi. It may seem lucrative to keep building more resorts, malls and theme parks to bring in the tourist ringgit. But how sustainable can this be for the islands?

Let us not forget that even with its duty-free status, Langkawi cannot compete with other cities like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong for ‘shopping tourism’. In the first place, tourists do not come from far to visit Langkawi for shopping. Instead, they are here for the nature that can be found here. 

In this respect, the Kedah state government and local development authorities should look into spending on conserving nature and protecting our forests to boost eco-tourism rather than focusing on clearing more land and forests for many more buildings and development projects. 

We are concerned islanders and we do not want to be in a mourning over the loss of the jewel of Langkawi in the near future. We are here protecting the rice bowl of the islanders.

Back then, I do remember how we were responded when we seek support from the MNS Langkawi. And below is the reply from the former MNS Langkawi Chairman back in 2009 (known as "junglewalla" the famous naturalist and proclaimed conservationist of Langkawi):

Note: Mr XX is someone that the name will not be revealed here
*From:* junglewalla <junglewalla@gmail.com>
> *To:* mnslangkawi@yahoogroups.com
> *Sent:* Thu, September 3, 2009 2:25:46 PM
> *Subject:* [mnslangkawi] Re: Pulau Payar Eco Dive Resort
>
>
> Hi Guys,
> I have spoken to Mr.XX on the phone yesterday and he informed me 
> this. Before being awarded the project the state goverment wanted the 
> best practice in place and made an inspection visit of his resort in 
> the east coast before the final desision was made.Some measures he has 
> in place are:
>
> 1. The grey water and black water sewage system at the resort complies 
> with international and national standards. All Treated water will be 
> used on the plant of the resort and not discharged into the ocean.
> 2.There will be a combustion generator(?) to power the resort but in 
> addition it has solar panels to light up the guest rooms at night.
> 3.All gabbage produce at the resort will be transported back to the 
> mainland or island.
>
> Mr. XX  has invited mns members to make an effort to visit to the 
> resort at P. Payar for a site inspection.May i suggest to our members 
> that we make a visit as soon as possible so as to satisfy any doubts 
> that we may have. This will also give us the opportunity to spot any 
> bad practices at the site and advice him early. This will allow for 
> the problem to be nib at the bud early. I am sure Mr. XX 
> understands that being environmentally friendly can be good for business.
>
> I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the group for the 
> passion and love you have shown for the island's environment. Keep it 
> comming.
>
> We must not only be seen to be a watch dog for the environment but 
> must be prepared to engage with stakeholders and goverment bodies. 
> While being critical we must also provide solutions. We must ensure 
> before any public action (newspaper,t. v., boycott etc) is taken on 
> errant individuals or companies that we must have throughly 
> investigated the matter and that we are proven right. This is to avoid 
> any legal liabilities upon us.
>
> Bear this also in mind..... that very so often we must stop and look 
> into the mirror and ask ourself this question .... What can I as an 
> individual do for the environment? .... Is the detergent that I am 
> using at home environmentally friendly or not and does it end up in 
> the ocean too?...or... .Am I still using styrofoam to pack my makan or 
> using the tiffen at the back of my car?....
> Anybody want to go into the environmentally friendly product business?
> Small deeds add up.
>
> Love & Peace
>
> Junglewalla
>

In the end, that's the end from junglewalla. No followups, no site visit nor efforts to help provide any solutions, nothing.  And yes sir, they did their own research before writing the letter. So, I wonder on the wonders of this conservationist. And now I have learnt that when conservation works and business interest comes together = zero conservation.
 
Though the deed may be small but thank you very much to Mandy, Malaysiakini and EcoMalaysia.org.

And if you are wondering why I am bringing up the past, I wonder myself too. I am NOT a conservationist. I am simply doing this dirty job of highlighting some of the issues online while mostly others prefer to rah-rah the issues over a teh-tarik at the mamak stall.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

My Ramblings: I Ain't Perfect

Who says green practices is an easy task? Anyone dares to argue this?

It was an easy start for me and then there were other challenges that came along. In a way, it is not easy at all. Thankfully, when I was little I grew up observing my Mum reusing those plastic bags obtained from her weekend groceries shopping. She cleaned those extra plastic bags, allowed them to dry and folded them once they were dried. When the folded plastic bags became a few bundles, she took the bundles to the wet market and happily gave them away to her favorite vegetable, fish or chicken stall owners. Not only plastic bags which Mum collected but as well as bunches of colorful raffia strings. Such little act of thoughtfulness always bring smiles to the stall owners and of course, when they are happy, Mum gets some discounts from her purchase. A little thought goes a long way.

Those were the days when the jargon "3Rs" is unknown and the word "RECYCLE" yet to exist. And yet the community has been practicing "REUSE" even before this word is emphasized now. Mum has demonstrated the concept of REUSE to me in a practical way. I see the benefits of what Mum has done (apart from the small discounts) and I am now copying her deeds but in a different way. Instead of taking those plastic bags and cleaning them (I hate cleaning!), I only keep the clean ones and use up the rests for storing waste. Because of that, I became a hoarder of plastic bags and to stop this habit, I now say "No" to new plastic bags when I buy stuffs. 
Recyclable items

So the subject is only on plastic bags and what about polystyrene a.k.a Styrofoam? Styrofoam is equally as bad as plastic bags that choked our environment and our marine wildlife! One of the nature guides here argued with me that polystyrene can be recycled. Malaysia does not have facilities that collect or accept polystyrene for recycling. But what about those polystyrene food containers? They will be oily and dirty after use. And who will bother to wash those after use? It is not easy and expensive to recycle polystyrene stained by food waste. Therefore, these polystyrene food containers are not suitable to be recycled. 

Polystyrene food containers used as serving plates at a hawker center

I so wanted to spread the words around to my friends especially of saying "No" to new plastic bags and styrofoam. It is not easy. I must walk the talk and can only spread the words around by practicing silently.

So what are my challenges?

I have been labelled as a freak by some of my friends on occasions when I freaked out at eating places serving food on styrofoam. They would give me a strange stare as if they were saying, "What's the big deal...?" or they would tell me "Don't be such a fuss!".

I cannot recall exactly which year that I started reducing the usage of polystyrene to pack my food. Very likely when I came to Langkawi years ago working with an outdoor education company. All of us (the staff and participants) were required to carry food containers all the time. If you lose your container, go look for banana leaves. I then discovered more about the dark side of consuming food on polystyrene and then it is a "fullstop" to it. Should I happen to use polystyrene, there's a way to reuse food styrofoam (picture below):
Polystyrene a.k.a. Styrofoam converted to my mouse pad. Effective la!

I may be a freak and often seen going around pasar malam (night market) with my little food containers and used plastic bags. Then again, I do get caught in situations when I didn't have these things with me to pack food. Or sometimes I did bring my food containers but  not enough to pack more yummy food. And this will be the moment when I would go "Aaaaarrrrrrgggggghhhhhh!!"

There were lots of  "Aaaaarrrrrrgggggghhhhhh!!" when I first started practicing bringing own plastic bags and food containers because I always forgot to take them along with me. And so at the pasar malam, I will be staring at the food and at the same time making decisions to pack them or not. For many times I ended up not having to eat what I was craving for because of styrofoam. Lessons learned and now I do remember.

There were occasions when I ran out of used plastic bags and guiltily, I will "sneaked" stuffs in new plastic bags. I will end up performing self consolation ritual by telling myself, "Is ok...considering I have not used new plastic bags for the past few days/weeks...??"

And then what about when I go traveling? That's the most difficult one. Very often my "Things to Pack" excludes used plastic bags and food container (they do take up some valuable spaces in my backpack). And then I will be caught in the same situation of "Aaaaarrrrrrgggggghhhhhh!!" The least I can do is by being selective in which stall I will buy from and to make sacrifices. Yet, I do ended up being guilty of taking new plastic bags. Looks like I have to bring my own "Bungkus-Kit" when I go traveling now.

My bungkus kit consists of cloth bag, food container and overused plastic bags

The biggest guilt of all will be when I got caught in the above situations by my friends. Imagine having to be seen by my friends when I packed stuffs with new plastic bags and that's even worse than being called a freak! And the remarks I got? Well, stuff 'em with excuses then! But then again, when I packed stuffs with my used plastic bags, I do get mistaken too. Shall I put a label on the used plastic bag, "I am so overused for more than twenty times!"?

And saying "No" to new plastic bags at supermarkets can be tricky as well. Reason? On some days, I do need those large and medium sized supermarket plastic bags to store garbage and stuffs. Well... at least I don't have to spend extra cash buying new garbage bags. And garbage bags are plastic bags too. Gimme a break... on some days I rejected new plastic bags, ok!

Lastly, I have another title given by a friend - "Hoarder". Because we often thought of reusing something later, we tend to keep stuffs to be used later. Then stuffs keep building up and taking up the storage space in the house. How do I ensure that I am not overly a hoarder? I use my neighbor as a benchmark... hee hee... My neighbor is the greatest hoarder I have ever met. 


Seriously, I ain't perfect! I am only doing my best within my capacity in helping to green the island. And I am not a green person either. I am part of the society contributing to carbon footprint and burning fossil fuel. As much as I can, I will pick a day once a week or fortnightly as a car free day. Yet, I ain't perfect because I have to use electricity to work on computers to blog, to facebook, to snack on my favorite potato Chipster chips, to chill my favorite Vitagen drink (plastic there!) and listening to my radio! It is only on the day I die that I stop contributing to carbon footprint and then I may become perfect green person six feet under?

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