KOTA KINABALU: Sungai ISME is just a small 1.5 km river but its name signifies a special bond between Malaysia and Japan via a joint cooperation in the restoration of degraded mangroves in Sabah.
The river, a tributary of Sungai Loboh near Kampung Padas in Sandakan district, was named after a non-profit and governmental scientific society based in Okinawa, Japan – the International Society for Mangrove Ecosystem (ISME).
ISME is currently involved in the second-phase of the collaboration with the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD) to carry out mangrove rehabilitation project in the State since 2011.
Sungai ISME is also part of the 26.5 hectares (ha) of mangroves encroached by oil palm plantations in six locations in Sandakan district. The total area of degraded mangrove that have been rehabilitated under the first phase of the SFD-ISME project is 150 ha.
Dr Joseph Tangah, a Senior Research Officer of SFD’s Forest Research Centre in Sepilok, said the mangrove planting in Sandakan involved Sg Lalasan, Sg Batang, Tg Pisau, Samawang and Sg Luboh.
THE STATE OF MANGROVE FOREST IN SABAH
Tangah, who is also the project leader for mangroves rehabilitation in Sabah, elaborated further that planting was most extensive at Sungai Lalasan (12 ha), followed by Sg Batang (5.5 ha) and Tanjung Pisau (4.5 ha).
Sabah has about 338,000 ha of mangroves vegetation within the State’s 30 Forest Reserves (FR) (Class V), the largest being the Kuala Bonggaya and Kuala Labuk FR (56,441 ha).
The other is the 43,759 ha at Trusan Kinabatangan, which form part of the Lower Kinabatangan-Segama wetland Ramsar site.
Dr Tangah pointed out the total mangrove forest in Sabah account for 60 percent of Malaysia’s total and 7.6 percent of the global mangroves.
In July 2010, a delegation from the ISME headed by Prof Shigeyuki Baba, visited the SFD in Sandakan to discuss on the implementation of a mangrove rehabilitation project in Sabah.
REPLANTING 50 HA ANNUALLY
The visit led to the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement between the two organisations in November 2010 in Kota Kinabalu to carry out the first phase (2011-2014) of the mangrove rehabilitation project.
Funded by Tokyo-based conglomerate Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co., Ltd, the project is implemented by SFD with technical guidance from ISME.
The conglomerate has been implementing its Mangrove Planting Project since 1999, in several Asian countries including Bangladesh, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Phillipines, Thailand and Vietnam.
“Sabah is the first state in Malaysia to have such collaboration on mangrove restoration with an international agency such as ISME,” Dr Tangah told Bernama.
The main objective of the collaborative project is to replant 50 ha of degraded mangroves annually in Sabah.
SEEKING COST EFFECTIVE METHODS
The project also involves the development of cost effective methods for mangrove rehabilitation with the available funds from ISME, whereas planting areas are located within forest reserves under the jurisdiction of SFD.
Dr Tangah said the first phase of the SFD-ISME joint effort has successfully planted more than 150 ha of degraded mangrove forests in 14 project sites located in five forestr reserve districts state wide.
They are Sungai Gum-Gum & Sungai Loboh FR and Sibyte FR in Sandakan, Padas Damit FR in Beaufort, Kuala Bonggaya & Kuala Labuk FR in Beluran and Sandakan and Kuala Tingkayu FR in Kunak.
“The successful completion of the first phase (2011-2014) has led to an extension of the project for another five more years (2014-2019).
“With community participation in the project activities, there is greater awareness that mangroves are important eco-system that needed to be restored,” he said.
BRINGING PEOPLE INTO CONTACT WITH MANGROVE
To achieve the same objectives, SFD will strive to improve on its mangrove outreach program through environmental education that will bring people into direct contact with the mangrove system.
A Project Steering Committee (PSC) for the SFD-ISME collaborative project has been formed and is headed by SFD Director Datuk Sam Mannan and co-chaired by Prof Shigeyuki Baba, who is also the executive director of ISME.
Silviculture procedures have been developed by the PSC for areas encroached by oil palm, degraded riverine mangroves and areas disturbed by shrimp pond.
For example the Sungai Garama and Sungai Klias in Padas Damit FR, Beaufort, on the West Coast of Sabah were chosen for the project because their river system were important habitats for proboscis monkeys (Nasalis larvatus), silver langur (Trachypithecus cristata) and fireflies.
An area of 22 ha encroached by oil palm plantation at Sungai Mattanggar in Beluran was rehabilitated in 2013 by a local contractor employed and supervised by SFD with technical advice from ISME. Local residents also participated through employment by the appointed contractor.
ECOSYSTEMS TOO COME BACK ALIVE
Dr Tangah added despite of the vast areas of mangroves forests in Sabah, they were under increasing pressure due to economic development, including conversion to aquaculture, agriculture and urban land uses.
“Based on the latest assessment of forest cover of Sabah in 2008, about 3,300 ha or approximately 0.97-1 percent of the total mangrove Forest Reserves has been illegally encroached and exploited,” he said.
For the record, mangroves in Sabah can be classified into various forest types, which are dominated by one or two tree species (true mangrove) and can be found in the seaward zone.
The SFD-IME mangrove rehabilitation project promises a new lease of life for mangrove areas in Sabah, that was once on the verge of disappearing from the landscape.
The presence of marine life, birds and small animal species such as monkeys, monitor lizards and snakes indicate that the ecosystem to has been restored along with the mangrove.
“It’s very interesting to see that villagers living in the vicinity are now able to return to catch fish, crab or collect seashell,” Tangah said, adding that the 150 ha of formerly degraded area now covered with healthy young mangroves species. -BERNAMA