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法祖尔 — 曼塔纳尼岛的潜水长新生代

曼塔纳尼岛民莫赫德·法祖尔·本·马达利(Mohd Faizul bin Madali)终日无所事事,就等着疫情过去后游客们回来。他是一名潜水长,2020年3月封锁令之后一直没有工作,只能靠家人接济。

“之前我的生活是潜水、吃饭、睡觉”,22岁的法祖尔说,“现在是吃了睡,睡了吃。”

他说自己的村子有100人,几乎每个人都依靠旅游业谋生。岛上另一个比较大的村子的情况也是如此。曼塔纳尼岛是沙巴西北海岸附近群岛中唯一一个有人居住的岛屿。

游客目前仍然来不了,许多岛民已经重操旧业,以捕鱼为生。正如法祖尔所说,几乎没有其他选择:“不靠大海,我们还能从哪里获得收入?”

当被问及他们是否使用炸鱼弹时,他马上回答道:“不不不!不再用了。”他坚持认为,即使岛屿周围有炸鱼活动,那肇事者也是“外面的人,可能来自(沙巴大陆上的)亚庇(Kota Kinabalu)”。

法祖尔已经向当局报告封锁期间非当地渔船入侵的情况,为它们在浅水区使用渔网,破坏珊瑚而愤怒。

“我很难过,因为珊瑚之前还活着,但被他们弄死了。谢天谢地,还有法律(可以解决这个问题)……旅游业也依靠健康美丽的珊瑚。谁想看死珊瑚啊?中国游客很挑的!”

Faizul (second from right) joins other Reef Check Malaysia divers to “plant” new corals on a Mantanani reef destroyed by fish-bombing (Image: Adzmin Fatta / Reef Check Malaysia)
法祖尔(右二)与马来西亚珊瑚礁检查组织的潜水员一起在被炸鱼破坏的曼塔纳尼珊瑚礁上“种植”新的珊瑚。图片来源 :Adzmin Fatta / Reef Check Malaysia

法祖尔是一名持证的“生态潜水员”,同时还是马来西亚珊瑚礁检查组织旗下曼塔纳尼青年俱乐部(一个养护能力建设项目)的成员,并积极参与该组织的珊瑚调查活动。

但和其他岛民不同的是,法祖尔没有通过捕鱼来维持生计:“我怎么知道该如何捕鱼?我只会带人潜水,教他们怎么潜水。”

翻译:YAN/中外对话

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本文由Macaranga与中外对话China Dialogue Ocean合作完成。

Faizul — Mantanani’s Divemaster Generation

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!”

Faizul (second from right) joins other Reef Check Malaysia divers to “plant” new corals on a Mantanani reef destroyed by fish-bombing (Image: Adzmin Fatta / Reef Check Malaysia)
Faizul (second from right) joins other Reef Check Malaysia divers to “plant” new corals on a Mantanani reef destroyed by fish-bombing (All images: Adzmin Fatta / Reef Check Malaysia)

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.”

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This Insight is a collaboration with China Dialogue Ocean.

Orang Asli and Poverty

VIRTUALLY all the Orang Asli households in the peninsula are in the income bracket of the poorest 40% of Malaysians, says NGO the Center for Orang Asli Concerns.

The centre estimates that 54,600 or 99.29% of all Orang Asli households earn below RM4,000 a month, putting them in the B40 category.

The poverty trap is hard to get out of, according to a 2013 paper, ‘Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia: population, spatial distribution and socio-economic condition’ (Masron et al).

Customary land

The main reason is the dispossession of their native customary land, which has been the source of their livelihoods.

“Deprived of their land, they are increasingly pushed from a subsistence economy into the prevailing cash economy,” the paper reports.

Except for a very small number of groups who are semi-nomads, official reports estimate that around 60% of Orang Asli actually live in or close to urban centres and most are connected to contemporary economies.

According to Masron, some groups have actually done so for hundreds of years.

Economic activities

Currently, the communities’ main economic activities are harvesting and selling forest products such as petai, durian and rattan; managing and selling products from rubber, oil palm or fruit and vegetable smallholdings; and wage jobs in towns and cities.

Still, the majority is not integrated into mainstream society, either by choice or lack of choice due to discrimination and lack of education.

Because of malnutrition and poverty, Orang Asli are also vulnerable to diseases. Access to healthcare remains challenging.

No options

As a result, the government’s pandemic lockdown hit a lot of them hard. “With no income, no access to alternative avenues of income, and no natural food source, their hands are completely tied,” stated the COVID-19 Collective for Orang Asli, a group coordinating Orang Asli Covid-19 relief efforts.

Post MCO, the collective is continuing to raise funds for the Orang Asli. The site has a map with all the village locations and groups helping to provide relief.

Photo: Pos Lanai Orang Asli transport their forest durian to urban centres for sale. Revenues that Orang Asli earn from these activities are enough only to put them in the bottom income bracket. (Credit: Jeffry Hassan)


Ref: Masron, T. & Masami, F. & Ismail, Norhasimah. (2013). Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia: population, spatial distribution and socio-economic condition. J. Ritsumeikan Soc. Sci. Hum.. 6. 75-115.


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A Sustainable Model: Looking South

EVERYTHING is about funding, says wildlife biologist Dr Wong Siew Te bluntly. Wong started the Borneon Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sandakan, Sabah in 2008.

Before that, he visited “too many zoos to count” over the space of 17 years, mainly in the US and Asia-Pacific.

His conclusion: the funding model that works is one where funds come from both visitors and government. And the best example of that is the Singapore Zoo, “the best-run zoo in Asia”.

Sun bear conservation

Dr Wong is clear that his centre is not a zoo—it is conservation focussed, and is indeed listed in the latest Malaysian national report on biodiversity as a success story for sun bear conservation.

It has rehabilitated and released seven animals back to the wild.

However, he based the centre’s financing model on that of the Singapore Zoo. Still short of achieving the same rate of success, he was caught overnight when the Covid-19 lockdown dried up visitors and funds for the centre.

But he is convinced the model works.

Startup funds

For starters, the Singapore government had pumped into the park “an astronomical amount of money”, says Dr Wong.

“They decided the whole zoo had to be a profit-making corporation. They need to do that to keep the standard of exhibits and experiences high enough to get people willing to come and pay.”

The Singapore Zoo is therefore able to raise the price of tickets.

“And there is a shop beside every single animal exhibit, so it’s buy-buy-buy everywhere you look. The restaurants are also very nice, so you want to eat there. It is a huge money spending experience.”

All that is necessary though.

Expanding

“With that money, it becomes not just about displaying wildlife, you can do education, which is actually relatively easy. But after that, you can do research and conservation. Conservation needs scientific data to back up actions.”

He says most large zoos in the developed world have a separate research and conservation department.

“But if you want to say, track a sun bear, a single satellite collar costs more than RM10,000. Without the money, without the mechanisms to generate revenue, everything is impossible.”

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Related Stories: Saving Zoos During Covid-19—Should We? (Part 2) I Aquaria and Conservation

Aquaria and Conservation

WHEN IT comes to aquaria, how effective can they be in conservation?

“As a place to do outreach, aquaria are fine, but it’s hard to make a case to confine marine creatures if ultimately, the aquaria does not contribute to species’ survival in the wild,” says marine biologist Quek Yew Aun.

“For example, if you wanted to breed sharks, (artificial) conditions are much more difficult to do so. Then where do you release it? We have yet to fully understand the breeding habits and life cycle of many marine species.”

A challenging realm

Quek, who holds an MSc in biodiversity, conservation and management, adds that the nature of the marine realm makes ex-situ conservation and public participation challenging.

“Compared to the terrestrial realm, we can’t deny that less public attention and subsequently funds, go to marine conservation.”

One of the two largest aquaria in the country, Aquaria KLCC, did for the first time last year, release 20 juvenile and baby brownbanded bamboo sharks (Chiloscyllium punctatum) off Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan.

Berita Harian reported that they did this with the Negeri Sembilan Fisheries Department and it was part of the park’s 10-year captive breeding programme. The aquarium did not respond to enquiries for information.

Contradictory messaging?

At the same time, though, Aquaria KLCC depicts sharks in ways that local shark activists decry.

The facility is well-known for their seasonal Insta-friendly publicity events of dressing their shark tank divers in Chinese lion dance costumes during the Chinese New Year and Santa Claus during Christmas.

Meanwhile, its public cage-diving-with-sharks programme is called ‘Cage Rage’ and sports a logo featuring a fierce-looking shark bursting through a cage; its tagline is also ‘I Dare You!’

In the former case, sharks are relegated to adornments, and in the latter, they are depicted as terrifying, angry creatures.

Sustainably funded

Incidentally, neither of Malaysia’s two largest aquaria—the second is Underwater World Langkawi—appealed for donations during the Covid-19 lockdown.

They are both backed by public-listed corporations; Aquaria KLCC itself was even being considered for public listing (see A Sustainable Model—Looking South).

Notwithstanding the fact that the sea is even more inaccessible to urbanites than forests, Quek prefers more immersive experiences.

“For example, you can volunteer for organisations like the Universiti Malaysia Terengganu—Sea Turtle Research Unit.

“Participants sign up to spend an entire week in the Chagar Hutang Research Station (on Pulau Redang), where they will assist in the monitoring of sea turtle nesting, sea turtle measuring and tagging.

“Or join MareCet, who orgainses day trips for the public, where people can join dolphin researchers to spot marine mammals.” MareCet is a research and conservation non-profit focussed on marine mammals and the greater marine environment.

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Related Stories: Saving Zoos During Covid-19—Should We? (Part 1) I A Sustainable Model—Looking South

Marking Attendance

COMMENT BY SL WONG: I KEPT wishing the ICCB 2019 sessions were better attended overall, and by Malaysians specifically. I felt embarrassed for the speakers, seeing so many empty seats in rooms or worse, large halls.

I wondered if it was especially disheartening for students or early-career conservationists who had sweated over their presentations.

But poor attendance really felt like a wasted opportunity at two of the three panels featuring Malaysian government decision-makers and operations heads.

Audiences—especially Malaysians—missed out on the chance to listen to, and engage with the civil servants on policy and operations.

At the one session that saw full attendance, the Director-General of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks even happily got into an exchange with a delegate from another country about how best to trap monkeys that had become pests.

Good engagement

The saving point for the two poorly-attended sessions was the quality of engagement. 

For example, at the session featuring the Ministry of Education official, three Malaysian activists shared perspectives and asked probing questions on STEM education. These ranged from the inclusion of conservation subjects, to collaborating with NGOs and scientists, and funding.

The official fielded all these questions, and one impression that struck me in his answers was the limitations the Ministry was facing, including budget cuts. He also asked for patience in implementing the raft of planned policy changes, which included retraining thousands of teachers.

“Transformation is taking place by the new government you have elected. We have to wait. Let the effectiveness take place. It will kick in in the next generation.”

I wished more people were present to hear that.

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Related reports: About ICCB I Quality Malaysian Research I What Price Entry?

What Price Entry?

BECAUSE of the conversation around the ICCB 2019 registration fee, Macaranga took to Twitter post-congress to conduct a straw poll and carry out a discussion on this issue.

Though with only 25 respondents, the straw poll confirmed that they all found the fee too high.

Macaranga ICCB 2019 Twitter Poll

Twitter discussions saw solutions offered to this issue.

@jkfoon suggested “holding conferences in university rather than 5-star venues, live-stream all conference talks rather than requiring people to fly around to world to attend, reducing the frills like bags, tags, performances etc.”

Others said high speaker fees should be looked at and floated the use of purchasing power parity for differential country pricing.

In contrast, another conservation meeting held days after ICCB in Madagascar, saw local researchers make up 42% of participants. More than half were students.

This was the the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) meeting. As tweeted by ATBC attendee, Malagasy researcher @SarobidyRakoto, the total raised to support local participation at meeting was USD9,000 (RM37,800).

The money was raised by ATBC itself, NGOs and individuals.

Interestingly, a tweet by another ATBC participant—since deleted because it was confusing—gave the impression that foreign researchers attending ATBC had to sponsor a local graduate student. That was not the case.

But the idea went down well with Malaysians discussing the high-registration-fee issue.

“That’s a great model!” said @aini1905 from the ICCB 2019 local organising committee. “Perhaps if we have next <sic> world chapter congress we’d be able to expand this same model.”

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Related Stories: About ICCB I Quality Malaysian Research I Marking Attendance

Quality Malaysian Research

COMMENT BY YH LAW: I WAS very happy to see that most Malaysian speakers aced their presentations at ICCB 2019. The younger speakers deserve special praise—they were confident, lively and eager to share their work. 

They presented effectively and answered questions well. They dished out plenty of positive vibes. And often their friends or colleagues were sitting in the audience—peer support must have helped!

Many of the Malaysian talks I went to showcased on-going work or results of their Master theses, which are often a prelude to bigger research projects.

So, I was often left wanting more. But I’m relieved to see that our younger scientists or conservationists are well trained. 

I am disappointed however, that there was no symposium or plenary dedicated to oil palm. 

Whither oil palm?

Given the impact that oil palm has on the environment, whether perceived or true, not dedicating a plenary or several symposiums on the issue is ignoring the elephant in the room. 

(Though there was a handful of talks about elephants that discussed the animal’s use of oil palm landscapes.) 

With more than 1,300 regional and international participants, mostly conservation practitioners and some industry players, ICCB 2019 in Kuala Lumpur was arguably the best platform to discuss and debate the environmental aspects of oil palm. 

We could have had so much science and so many opinions from experts and practitioners. The exchange might be awkward, perhaps even uncomfortable, but I think that is part of the process needed to get us out of our echo chambers and cross the divide. 

Finding answers

We need solutions to the complex, thorny issue of oil palm, solutions which I doubt would emerge from a feel-good conversation. 

Whatever the solutions might be, we missed the chance to discuss them at ICCB 2019. It’s everyone’s loss, including the government and people of Malaysia and Indonesia, and all concerned conservationists.

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Related reports: About ICCB I What Price Entry? I Marking Attendance

About ICCB

THE INTERNATIONAL Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) is a global forum for “addressing conservation challenges and for presenting new research in conservation science and practice”. 

Since 1988, it has been organised once every two years by the US-based Society for Conservation Biology. The society has nearly 3,500 members from 140 countries.

ICCB differs from many other conferences as it cuts across fields, from biology to management and technology.

At each congress, professionals and students present and discuss research and developments in conservation science and practice.

A plethora of avenues are offered for this including plenaries, symposia, moderated discussions, and poster and booth exhibits. There are also workshops, a careers night, and field trips.

As such, ICCBs are also important networking events.

The ICCB 2019 theme was ‘Conservation Beyond Boundaries: Connecting Biodiversity with Communities, Governments and Stakeholders’. Its daily themes were plastic solutions, empowering communities, diversity in science and saving wildlife and wild places.

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Related Stories: Quality Malaysian Research I What Price Entry? I Marking Attendance