With new lockdowns and closure of international borders, wildlife has been an increasingly common sight in Malaysia’s urban areas. But what does this mean? This commentary was first published on Channel News Asia and is republished here with permission.
[First posted May 27, 2021]
WHO DOESN’T like animal videos? Malaysians certainly do.
With unending COVID-19 lockdowns, a subset of these have become social media favourites: Wild animals in urban areas.
Such visuals feed into the pandemic mantra of “Look how nature recovers when we humans are out of the picture”. But how true is that?
(Photo: Visuals of cute animals in human environments have been going viral during Covid-19; this one hasn’t but registers on the cute scale ~ Pic by Nuratiqah AR )
MANTANANI native Mohd Faizul bin Madali is twiddling his thumbs waiting for the pandemic to end and tourists to return.
He is a divemaster and has been without work since lockdowns began in March 2020, relying instead on his family to support him.
“Previously, my life was diving, eating, sleeping,” says the 22-year-old. “Now, it’s eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping.”
He says virtually everyone in his village of 100 people has been dependent on tourism. The same is true of the other, larger village on Mantanani, the only inhabited island of a small group off Sabah’s northwest coast.
Back to fishing
With tourists still unable to visit, many islanders have returned to fishing as a way to make a living. As Faizul remarks, there are very few alternatives: “Where else are we going to get an income if not from the sea?”
When asked if they use fish bombs, he is quick to respond: “No, no, no! Not any more.” If fish-bombing is taking place around the islands, he is adamant the perpetrators are “outsiders, maybe from Kota Kinabalu [on the mainland]”.
Faizul has reported to the authorities the intrusion of non-local fishing boats during lockdown, incensed that they used nets in shallow waters, destroying the coral.
“I felt sad because the coral used to be alive, but they killed it. Thank goodness there are laws [to tackle this]… Tourism also depends on corals being beautiful and healthy. Who wants to look at dead corals? And Chinese tourists are very particular!”
A certified “eco-diver”, Faizul is also part of Reef Check Malaysia’s Mantanani Youth Club, a capacity-building conservation initiative, and takes an active part in the NGO’s reef surveys.
Unlike other islanders, however, he has not turned to fishing to make ends meet: “How would I know how to do that? What I can do is bring people diving and teach them how to dive.”
Are Malaysians fed up enough of river pollution to assert their environmental rights? Do they even know what these rights are?
ASTONISHINGLY, it happened again: Sungai Kim Kim in Johor was polluted once more in early March. And it happened smack on the second anniversary of the toxic waste disaster there that hospitalised 2,700 and cost RM6.4m to clean up.
While this recent episode was described by the Minister of Environment as “normal pollution” and not hazardous, it raises concerns and questions as to why any pollution has recurred.
Johoreans are not the only ones wondering this.
(Photo: The Barchats: Envirorights webinars on environmental rights drew 435 lawyers and members of the public. Facebook screenshot: Bar Council Committee on Environment and Climate Change)
Scientists makenew findings, not necessarily all good, in the iconic Batu Caves, confirming its status as a natural treasure.
FOR THE millions of tourists who thronged Batu Caves in pre-Covid-19 times, and even for the residents who live nearby, the limestone hill is known only for its colourful Hindu temple and the Thaipusam festival.
Overshadowed is the hill’s scientific importance. Batu Caves is actually the best-studied limestone hill in Southeast Asia with many valuable natural history characteristics which are threatened.
In fact, is there even anything of scientific value left to conserve? The answer is a resounding “yes” according to a recent scientific expedition.
(Photo: Collecting Epithema parvibracteatum, endemic to Batu Caves and critically endangered; Ruth Kiew is second from left; Nur Atiqah Abd Rahman is on the left. Pic by SL Wong)
Sabah’s beautiful islands can be managed so that tourists, nature and local livelihoods co-exist.This is the second of a two-parter on ecotourism in Macaranga’s Taking Stock series. .
FOR YEARS now, mass tourism has been impacting the environmental health of coral islands off Sabah’s west coast. Among them is the Mantanani three-island group, located off the northwestern tip of Borneo.
But there are far fewer tourists now as the pandemic stifles travel. Some islanders are using the lull to try new businesses and better manage their environment.
(Photo: Sun, sea and surf have turned Mantanani into a major tourist draw. Pic by Reef Check Malaysia)