Sokong Team
Tue Nov 28 2023

Heroes of the Straits: Monitoring a Precious Ecosystem

Youth & Children
This article features :

The Straits of Johor, a cradle of life between Malaysia and Singapore, is a testament to the delicate balance nature meticulously crafts.

Precious seagrass once thrived in these waters with ancient mangroves and a kaleidoscope of marine life; it is a sanctuary for creatures big and small, from fishes of all kinds and sizes, prawns, crabs, graceful turtles, and elusive dugongs.

Once, dolphins were sighted playing in these waters, while the estuarine crocodiles and false gharials kept the balance just right. On the coastline, otters thrived to do their part in keeping the population of marine and animal life in check.

The Straits is approximately 50 kilometres long from end to end, 600 metres at its narrowest and 4.8 kilometres at its widest. It is a gem of biodiversity, threatened by pollution from the rivers that flow into it, coastal development, and climate change.

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These have disrupted the delicate balance of life, affecting the marine creatures and the fisherfolk who have relied on it for generations to sustain their livelihoods.

A local club in the Mukim of Tanjung Kupang called Kelab Alami Mukim Tanjung Kupang, or Kelab Alami for short, is concerned about the health of the Straits. Tanjung Kupang is a district on the West side of the Straits comprising nine villages whose original inhabitants were mainly families of coastal fishers. Their notable neighbours are the Port of Tanjung Pelepas, industrial and logistics centres, and Forest City.

“We started out as an environmental club teaching kids in Tanjung Kupang about the environment, about seagrass, mangroves, and the local flora and fauna,” said Dr Serina Rahman, who co-founded the Club with Shalan Jum’at in 2009 as Kelab Pencinta Alam Tanjung Kupang.

Dr Serina Rahman is a conservation scientist and environmental anthropologist who first arrived at Mukim Tanjung Kupang in 2007 as a researcher and moved in a year later. She is a lecturer at the Southeast Asian Studies Department of the National University of Singapore and an Associate Fellow of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. Shalan Jum’at is a ‘local boy’, the son of a fisherman, and he has a love for his community of coastal fishing families, many of whom are his relatives.

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“The children we brought together were enthusiastic, and we hold weekly sessions at the old clubhouse.

“Indicative of their enthusiasm, they would come back after school to learn more and do gardening at the plot of land behind with ‘Abang Lan,’ their reference to Shalan, and do other projects with him around the villages.

“He wanted them to be knowledgeable and useful to the community,” Serina said.

Due to their extensive local knowledge from involving themselves with Kelab Alami, the children were exposed to academics and researchers from local and foreign universities and institutions, studying coastline biodiversity since this part of the Straits is home to the largest intertidal seagrass meadow in peninsular Malaysia.

With Serina’s guidance, the children developed the skills to monitor and document the diverse ecosystems along the Tanjung Kupang coastline, from the mouth of the Pulai River to the mouth of the Pendas River. They understood the importance of tidal flows and the rich tapestry of flora and fauna inhabiting this coastal stretch.

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This impressed the academics and researchers who came to rely on Kelab Alami’s data. Nur Syazwani Ali, affectionately known as Wani and currently the manager of Kelab Alami, embodies the programme’s success. Having joined at 11, Wani has since graduated with a Biology degree from Malaysia University in Terengganu. Remarkably, she’s now 24, married, and a proud parent.

Reflecting on the profound impact of growing up within Kelab Alami, Serina emphasised that the experience leaves lasting impressions on the children involved. Even if they don’t pursue relevant academic paths like Wani, they depart with a deep understanding of the biodiversity and ecology of their respective regions.

Ultimately, Kelab Alami wants to establish a community-led conservation area as this is in the National Biodiversity Conservation Plan, “but we need to work on making this a reality for our area; being the local habitat experts, the community can do the job,” she said.

With her rich experience in working with corporations and government sectors, she commented, “I don’t believe in tying ourselves to trees because protests do not work. Engagement to find win-win situations is key, but the community must lead the way.”

According to Serina, the engagement with these stakeholders has proven incredibly positive. “Kelab Alami Nature & Heritage Centre is on the Johor Port Authority land, which was leased to PTP long term, and both have agreed to let us use it,” Serina said.

Serina revealed that funding is a perennial problem.

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“We have received grants for project funding, but those have a duration, and once the aim is achieved, the assistance stops.

“We must do more with our educational eco-tours because we charge for that, but that is seasonal, and tours are only possible during low tides when we take visitors onto the seagrass bed.

Kelab Alami also conducts curated field trips for schools, which may or may not include visits to the seagrass beds. These are good contributions to the local economy and help the Kelab to get by, too.

“To maintain our monitoring initiatives and local youth environmental education programmes, which are spearheaded by Wani, we rely on donations and grants.

“These programs play a crucial role in raising awareness and fostering appreciation among the youth in our community and the broader Iskandar Puteri/EduCity area.

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“The need for financial support is underscored by the importance of continuously monitoring the environmental impacts of coastal development and shipping traffic, making these activities essential for our community’s well-being,” Serina said.

“And over the years, we have witnessed and felt the effects of climate change, and so it’s a double whammy for the fishermen and women; global warming and increased commercial activities means low yield from the Straits,” Serina said.

Today, you have the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution towards the establishment of a community-led conservation area in Tanjung Kupang. By clicking here, you can show your support and make a donation to further their important cause.

by malaysiakini

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