Monthly Wrap-up: March 2021

6 April 2021: MARCH saw Orang Asli communities protesting development projects on their ancestral lands in Perak and Kelantan.

Meanwhile in Sabah, an anti-poaching raid saw 14 men arrested, including policemen and allegedly one ex-MP.

Climate change youth group Klima Action Malaysia carefully chose the Tugu Negara for the global climate strike; among other things, they declared “No” to a political Emergency and “Yes” to a climate Emergency.

#ForestFiles on Radio and TV

6 April 2021: IN THE last couple of months, we have had our #ForestFiles In-Depth series covered on radio and TV. The 4-part series covers the drivers of deforestation in Peninsular Malaysia.

Many thanks to Juliet Jacobs of ‘Earth Matters’ on BFM89.9 FM and Sharaad Kuttan and Melisa Idris of ‘Consider This’ on Astro Awani, as well as all the guests who appeared with Yao-Hua, the series’ principal investigator and writer.

Consider This: Environment ~ Is forest protection inadequate? (9 March 2021) Featuring Lim Teck Wyn, Resource Stewardship Consultants

Forest Files Findings Part 1: Who Decides on Forest Use? (15 February 2021): Who has the final say over what happens to our forests here in Peninsular Malaysia? Featuring: Adrian Yeo, Selangor State Government.

Forest Files Findings Part 2: Is Sustainable Logging Sustainable? (22 February 2021): Does certification promote sustainable logging and sustainable forestry? Featuring: Siti Syaliza Mustapha, Malaysian Timber Certification Council.

Forest Files Findings Part 3: Strategies and Solutions for Sustainable Forestry (1 March 2021): What more can be done to improve forest use, in line with the needs of all the different stakeholders involved? Featuring: Balu Perumal, Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and Surin Suksuwan, the Southeast Asia Regional Director at ProForest.

Monthly Wrap-up: February 2021

24 February 2021: WHY IS there scepticism when government agencies win awards? And environmental awards at that. Well, in this Monthly Wrap-up with BFM Radio 89.9, we discuss why winning the prestigious Asia Environmental Enforcement Awards is a win for the environment.

The international award was bestowed to (1) Perhilitan and the Royal Malaysian Police Taskforce involved in Operasi Bersepadu Khazanah for impact in wildlife crime, and (2) the Enforcement Division, Department of Environment, Malaysia for collaboration in tackling plastic pollution.

Of the many implications, mainstreaming these efforts raises public awareness of these crimes. Hopefully, it also encourages resource allocation to these efforts – never a given.

Finally, it’s a signal that it pays for new governments to continue with good policies and programmes even if they were started by the previous government.

Check in with us again on the last Monday of March for our next Monthly Wrap-Up!

2021 = 2020 2.0?

26 January 2021: WITH high Covid-19 numbers, political uncertainty and an MCO, the start of 2021 feels like an endless loop of 2020. With massive floods thrown in. Our first Monthly Wrap-Up of the year with BFM89.9 Radio necessarily addresses this.

MCO 2.0: With the Ministry of Health indicating that the curve won’t be flattened until May 2021, environmental sectors are again going to be affected. Macaranga will be keeping an eye again on the impact. Our reports from last year are here.

Emergency: The suspension of Parliament and state assembly sittings is troubling. When are laws going to be made and amended and policies drawn up? In particular, our hobbyhorses are the amendments to the Forestry and Wildlife Acts. But crucially, how are checks and balances going to be carried out? Read how forestry management decisions are made here.

Floods: The devastating floods early this month prompted many environmental NGOs and academics to denounce logging as the cause of the floods. They found themselves at loggerheads with the Kelantan Menteri Besar who blamed the monsoon instead. Surprisingly, the evidence is mixed. While a 2005 report that analysed global data found little support that forest cover prevents major floods, another 2016 report of local Malaysian data showed that forest cover loss increases flooding days. Both reports however support the need to better manage river basins, not just forests per se.

Supporting conservation: Back to MCO 2.0, the lockdown is increasing both disconnection from nature and challenges for environmental organisations. We urge folks to go online to keep associating with nature virtually; and at the same time, we give a shout out to some groups (and there are more!):

2020 Wrap-Up

29 December, 2020: IN OUR 2020 Wrap-Up with BFM89.9 Radio, we look back at the key issues of 2020, and try hard to include positives too: 

Covid-19 impact

Obviously, the impact of Covid-19 on environmental sectors has been big. 

In ecotourism, jobs have been lost but the jury is still out on whether resource extraction has gone up. On the bright side, technology has come in to save the day.

In conservation, funding and research have been disrupted; how bad job losses are is still unclear. 

Meanwhile, globally, carbon emissions have dropped by about 7%, mostly from reduced transport, in particular, airlines.

But as the economy ramps up again, emissions will return to and even exceed pre-Covid-19 levels.

Water Pollution

We relooked water cuts in the Klang Valley and Johor with a nod to the 2019 Sungai Kim Kim river pollution disaster.

Basically, authorities are struggling to monitor river quality. Malaysia has 3,000 rivers: only 638 or 21% are monitored.

The culprits are numerous, ranging from licensed and unlicensed rivers factories, to sand-mining operations, farms, sewage treatment plants and landfill leachate.

However, there are solutions, including multi-million ringgit real-time early monitoring systems in industrial estates, amending laws for longer jail terms and the definition of contamination.

More folks are turning to lawsuits.

Forestry and Wildlife Acts

Amendments to both these Acts were meant to have been tabled this year. They have not.

With forest loss continuing during the MCO, amendments are badly needed to include compulsory public consultation before permanent reserve forest excisions and the simultaneous replacement of these forests.

Updated wildlife laws are needed to keep up with the action being taken to address poaching. Jail terms are expected to be increased from 2 years to 15 years, maximum fines from RM100,000 to RM1 million and crucially, the inclusion of online wildlife trade.

Bouquets to Juliet Jacobs at ‘Earth Matters’ for having us on monthly for the environmental Wrap-Up. See y’all on the last Monday of January 2021!

All things bright and beautiful and the pandemic

‘Consider This’: Environment Pandemic Challenges Met? (Astro Awani)

17 December, 2020 [by Siew Lyn] : HUGE thanks to Astro Awani’s ‘Consider This’ for having me on to chat about the continued impact of Covid-19 on environmental sectors in Malaysia.

I drew from Macaranga’s Taking Stock reports as well as our report on conservationists’ wishlist for Budget 2021 and the actual Budget allocations for the environment, which have been passed.

This conversation is crucial in light of the recently-released IPBES scientific report on biodiversity and pandemics. The report stated that all the drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change are the same drivers of pandemics such as Covid-19.

In fact, if these drivers are not urgently addressed, pandemics, will “spread more rapidly, do more damage to the world economy and kill more people than COVID-19”.

Very pleased to share the slot with sun bear expert Wong Siew Te who was quoted in 2 Taking Stock stories.

Thanks again, Sharaad Kuttan, Melisa Idris and Hafiz Marzukhi and I’ll end with Sharaad’s quotable “God forbid you try and save an animal that is ugly”.

Monthly Wrap-Up: November 2020

4 December, 2020: IN THIS wrap-up, we cheekily rename the government’s ‘No Plastic Bag’ campaign but are delighted to see it revived with the hope the Plastics Roadmap is back on track.

We also talk Budget 2021 allocations for the environmental sector and (good news!) the surge in anti-poaching efforts in Johor.

Catch you next month on BFM89.9 Radio on the last Monday, 28 December, for a look back at that ‘wonderful year’ that was 2020 (what’s the bet it will involve water cuts…)

In other news, huge thanks to Malaysiakini for running our Insight on how 64 researchers have the science to back the conservation of Batu ‘It’s More Than A Temple’ Caves:

Achievements unlocked

30 October, 2020: MACARANGA has achieved much over the last seven days.

First, we delivered Macaranga’s first newsletter on 23 October. Finally we have a way to reach our readers directly (or at least their mailboxes).

We toyed with the idea of a newsletter for almost a year, but we had little time for anything other than stories and grant applications (we won two!).

And when we got down to it, MailChimp was easy enough (and its interface works quite like our website builder WordPress’) that we finished the newsletter in a couple of days.

The newsletters introduce Macaranga stories to our subscribers. But there will be more.

Going forward, we will make the newsletter more personalised and hopefully reward subscribers with unique access to our stories or projects.

Click the link below to subscribe to our newsletter. Share it widely.

Second, over 50 subscribers signed up for our newsletters within 12 days. I’d call that a good start.

Almost all our subscribers come from Malaysia. I’d expected the group to be populated by conservationists, but there were only about 15 of them, and I was happy to be wrong. 

The rest were students, lawyers, journalists, communication officers and teachers, among others.

Third, we published a story on new development in Fraser’s Hill written by our new contributing writer, Pashmina Binwani.

Pashmina is a travel writer and PR specialist in Malaysia. In late September, she pitched us a story about the contentious new hotel in Fraser’s Hill. 

Although the issue had been widely reported, and Pashmina was new to journalistic reporting, I sensed promise in her. 

I called her to explain (at length) how reporting works and how we work (no pay, yet).

My call might have discouraged some aspiring writers, but not Pashmina. “Alright, let’s give this a try,” I thought. 

We are happy with the result – especially since Pashmina interviewed the many parties involved, including the developer and the town planner recruited to chart Fraser’s Hill future.

Fourth, we spoke on BFM89.9’s Earth Matters for our October Wrap-up. The achievement here is that we managed to close the show at <14 minutes!

We addressed the seemingly monthly ordeal of river pollution and water cuts in Selangor, and the town hall on the proposed degazettement of the North Kuala Langat Permanent Forest Reserve. 

We also called attention to the environmental aspects of Budget 2021 which will be tabled on 6 November. The government is apparently injecting a ‘sustainability agenda’ in the Budget.

Meanwhile, read our story on what conservationists want to see in the Budget.

The right(s) stuff

16 October, 2020: WHEN YOUR heart goes pitter-patter and it’s not love, it’s because you are in an event hosted by the Bar Council of Malaysia. 

I (Siew Lyn) was invited as a panelist to kick off a webinar series on environmental rights by the Bar Council Environment and Climate Change Committee (BCECCC) yesterday.

Called EnviroRights, the series aims to address “whether normal citizens like you and me have a right to be involved with the environment and how it is managed, what those rights are, how to protect them and why bother doing so.”

But of course, the participants weren’t exactly just you and me. Half of the over-160 participants were lawyers, a fact organisers shared with me just before going live. (It turned out at the end that 60% were lawyers)

It’s a good thing the panel also included Jessica Binwani, legal consultant to the Consumers’ Association Of Penang and Sahabat Alam Malaysia, and Tan Sri Dr Salleh Mohd Nor, former Director-General of the Forest Research Institute Malaysia and former President of the Malaysian Nature Society.

Thanks to meticulous prep by the organising team and skilful moderation by a fellow journalist Norman Goh, all went very well. I shared my views, both personally and from the media perspective.

My closing remark: “If I, who am a non-lawyer, can – perhaps foolishly – take part in a forum like this about environmental rights, everyone can do something about the environment. 

“I can’t ‘lawyer’. But I can speak to lawyers about laws and rights. And I have a tool and that is the ability to write. So I choose to use that tool. I choose to write as a way to engage, to voice out. 

“And everyone can use their tools and everyone can choose to voice out.”

EnviroRights Episode 0: Sg Kim Kim and then Sg Gong – Do We Have The Right To Be Angry? For more information on the series, check out the BCECCC Facebook.

Monthly wrap-up: September 2020

29 September 2020: SEPTEMBER’S sudden disruption of water supply to 1.2 million households in the Klang Valley and Selangor begs the question of what authorities are doing about the long-time and well-reported status of river quality.

With 43% of rivers in the peninsula slightly polluted, 11% polluted, do we need harsher penalties for offenders or just better enforcement to catch the offenders?

Meanwhile, as COVID-19 cases surge, dimming hopes of tourism revival, communities relying on ecotourism are hitting hard times.

On the Mantanani islands, locals learn new skills and trades to make up for lost tourism revenue. What works and not there could inform the rest of the country.

Looking ahead, World Migratory Bird Day 2020 is celebrated the second time this year on 10 October. Malaysia has lots of bird-watching sites, but volunteer also to research those under threat.

Catch you next month on the last Monday, 26 October, for our next wrap-up!

Ecotourism insights featured

15 September 2020: OUR TWO-PART Insight on the impact of Covid-19 on ecotourism in Sabah featuring the Kinabatangan floodplain and Mantanani island also appear on the Earth Journalism Network website (Part 1 and Part 2).

Huge thanks to EJN for funding these features as well as our Insights on the impact of Covid-19 on zoos and Orang Asli.

A shoutout also to regional news portal Southeast Asia Globe for running those ecotourism stories (Part 1 and Part 2).

Orang Asli and food resilience

2 September 2020: THE NEWS team at BFM Radio 89.9 interviewed Siew Lyn as a follow-up to her story Back to the jungle? The myth of indigenous community resilience.

The interview will appear in audio clips in the station’s hourly news bulletins over the next few weeks.

Among other things, they wanted to know about whether Orang Asli’s incomes have been restored and the status of issues revealed by the pandemic including connectivity to broader Malaysia and data gaps in demographics.

Monthly wrap-up: August 2020

31 August, 2020: WHY DID the elephant cross the road? It’s their right of passage. Or is it? We discuss what happens when elephants and humans disagree, in our August monthly wrap-up.

Also, here’s a news thread Yao Hua did on the issue after speaking to three experts (TwitterFacebook).

The gist is that elephants are always moving across the landscape for food. As they travel through the mosaic of forests, farms, houses and roads, they might damage property. Many locals respect elephants but can’t afford the losses.

For now, the authorities capture and relocate troublesome elephants, and advise people to stay away.

Malaysia needs better long-term solutions for human-elephant co-existence.

We also look at the shelving of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act. Following stakeholder consultations by the previous government in September 2019, the law would have eschewed being a copy-and-paste of the Singapore law and it would mitigate Asean sensitivities. 

But those reasons are the very ones being used by the current government to put the law on ice. More information here:

Looking ahead to September, the state-wide Sabah elections will be the first real test of support for the Perikatan Nasional government. We discuss the implications of a government change for conservation. 

This is in light of Sabah having the largest forested area in the country, also how ecotourism is closely tied to protected areas and needs to be revived for livelihoods and conservation.

In other news, thank you to the Star for running our feature on Orang Asli and food resilience. Another showing of the great photos by Pos Lanai community leader Jeffry Hassan, who is also interviewed.

Read the stories here:

Monthly wrap-up: July 2020

30 July 2020: OUR July wrap-up pays tribute to a late, great Malaysian zoologist and asks: could there be another Lim Boo Liat? Both Yao Hua and Siew Lyn have met him and remember him for his knowledge, humility and friendliness.

We also throw a spotlight on Sabah’s upcoming conservation blueprint on the gorgeous Kinabatangan riparian forest. Yao Hua was there just weeks ago and saw elephants, hornbills, proboscis monkeys and orangutans—all in a day. The mosquitoes were ruthless.

Looking ahead to the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on 9 August, we talk about the continued impact of COVID-19 on local communities. Read more in our Taking Stock Insights on food resilience and Orang Asli and, coming soon, Sama Dilaut.

On our monthly wrap-up, @natashazlkh said on Twitter, “I was listening to it!! Pretty cool stuff!!” When asked what aspects she liked (so we can do more of the same): “The bit about the Sabah government and interdisciplinary research, very subtle way in saying we need to work beyond reaching KPIs”.

Thank you! Do keep letting us know what you want of us on our website, Twitter or Facebook.

Catch you next month on the last Monday, 24 August, for our next wrap-up!

Monthly wrap-up: June 2020

30 June 2020: IT’S the end of June and our monthly wrap-up of all things environment in Malaysia looks at turtles, zoos, forest degazettement and hope for the tabling of environmental bills next month.

We covered zoos as part of our ‘Taking Stock’ feature series, and the forest angle presages a large In-Depth feature we have coming up in the next couple of months.

Got comments? Contact us on our website, Twitter or Facebook.

For our wrap-ups, do check in every last Monday of the month.

Wildlife behind bars

30 June 2020: WHEN millions of ringgit was donated to keep Malaysian zoos going during the height of the Covid-19 crisis, we asked if it was money worth spending.

With zoos being so contentious, both of us had previously written about zoos: Yao Hua in 2014 and Siew Lyn in 1995 (!). This time, we zoomed in on zoos’ and aquaria’s role in conservation (Part 1 and Part 2).

This included asking whether zoos figure in national conservation policies (they do) and how the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Peninsular Malaysia consider zoos (“relevant” and “important partners”).

Because a Macaranga reader had previously reached out to us, we ended up interviewing him—a marine biologist—for the section on aquaria. He, too, had previously written about wildlife in captivity.

And following the story’s publication, animal rights NGO Friends of the Orangutans got in touch expressing concern about the welfare of captive animals.

Our Insight on wildlife in captivity was also published by Malaysiakini (Part 1 & Part 2) and we spoke about the issue on Astro Awani’s ‘Consider This’ in May as well as in our June monthly wrap-up on BFM Radio’s ‘Earth Matters’ (click above blog entry to listen to it).

Thanks to all our media friends. Thanks also to Earth Journalism Network, who funded this Insight.

Monthly wrap-up: April & May 2020

18 May 2020: MACARANGA is thrilled to launch our monthly wrap-up of key Malaysian environmental stories on BFM 89.9 Radio’s ‘Earth Matters’. Huge thanks to producer Juliet Jacobs and BFM for this opportunity.

For April and May 2020, we talked about the impact of Covid-19 on environmental sectors in conjunction with our ‘Taking Stock’ feature series, and how the world and Malaysia celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar, the Chairperson of Klima Action Malaysia said of our BFM show: “Well done! Can’t wait to hear your (story) on the orang asli issues.”

We (mostly Siew Lyn) can’t wait to write those stories too!

Do check in every last Monday of the month.

People vs The Planet

Source: Astro Awani

14 May, 2020: CAN WE prolong environmental gains resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, such as cleaner air, cleaner waters and wildlife on the streets?

Astro Awani’s ‘Consider This’ team of Sharaad Kuttan and Melisa Idris had Macaranga on to discuss this, the impact of the pandemic on environmental sectors and the role of government in maintaining a balance between economic recovery and environmental protection.

Part 1: Protecting Environmental Gains? I Part 2: Ecotourism, Zoos and Research I Part 3: PN’s Environmental Policy Direction?

We’ll be diving into some of these issues in our ‘Taking Stock’ feature series.

Yao Hua found that speaking for TV was more unsettling than for radio. He needed 99% of his will to speak into the webcam. Were his smiles too much? How could he best peep at his notes? Everyone looked better than him!

Siew Lyn figured post-interview she was channelling committed conservationist and protected area specialist Surin Suksuwan. Do read/watch any of his interviews and writings.

We also got nice feedback from marine biologist Quek Yew Aun.

“Made some good points <thumbs up emoji> Btw, I found your comment on zoos in Malaysia quite interesting. I think it’s an interesting story to pick up. I personally think zoos have to be held accountable. I grew up thinking zoos were great for wildlife, but that might not always be the case in Malaysia.”

Look out for our stories on zoos and rehabilitation centers, Quek!

A Malaysian Environmental Journalism Site