Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Harassment of Wildlife Can Never Constitute Ecotourism


A video clip and photographs which surfaced on the Internet this week of a group of tourists and snorkelers harassing, restraining and attempting to ride on a sea turtle created an uproar among netizens and necessitated an investigation by the Departments of Fisheries and Marine Parks. What appalled netizens was not only that the tourists were engaging in the thoughtless, cruel and irresponsible act of harassing the turtle, but were encouraged to do so by the tour operator / snorkelling guide as part of their marine holiday experience. There was no regard for the safety, welfare or well-being of the unfortunate turtle, in spite of the obvious consequences that stress would have on the feeding, mating, breeding and resting patterns of a wild sea turtle.

All too often, such instances of cruelty to wildlife are passed off by irresponsible tour operators as ecotourism. Tourists are only too happy to have a photo opportunity with restrained crocodiles, tigers, turtles, primates and dolphins in order to have their “money’s worth” from the holiday package. There are insufficient regulations on what businesses may use the label of ecotourism, despite the existence of a National Ecotourism Plan and a relatively sophisticated legal framework where wildlife and the environment are concerned. Some tour operators and tourist destinations even argue that direct contact with animals during activities such as elephant rides, photo opportunities with captive wildlife, the feeding of wild birds and monkeys and petting zoos are important to enable tourists to get acquainted with wild animals and thus learn to love them. This idea is not only fallacious but also harmful to the welfare of animals.

Consumers should carry out basic research on tourist destinations and tour operators before paying for services and experiences that may in fact harm animal populations, the natural environment and the local community. A basic guide to choosing a responsible ecotourism service or experience may include the following tips:

· Do not engage in activities such as the feeding of wild birds, wild boars and macaques. Feeding wild animals causes them to lose their fear of humans, which makes it easy for them to be hunted or poached. It may also lead to a rise in aggression and human-animal conflict. Macaques are frequently emboldened by contact with humans and end up trespassing into buildings and attacking people. Feeding animals also affects their ability to learn to forage for their own food, and causes them to be dependent on humans for food. Human food such as processed snacks and sweets can also pose health and choking hazards to animals.

· Do not patronise the services of companies that drive off-track to harass animals. Insist on walking to a sensitive ecological site to appreciate the flora and fauna present. Ecotourism must necessarily sensitize people to the beauty and fragility of nature.

· Do not engage in activities such as elephant rides or photo opportunities with tigers, wild birds, reptiles and other wild animals. Most of the animals used in photo shoots are physically restrained using ropes and chains, or doped or overfed into becoming lethargic and passive so they could be easily handled. Animals are trained to give rides or perform tricks through beatings and cruel training methods, including by the withholding of food. Learn to appreciate wildlife as they are, and from a distance, without feeling the need to manhandle and hold them. Be happy in the knowledge that you have seen them in their natural environment, and that your tourist dollars will help maintain their sanctuary and improve their living conditions.

· Conduct due diligence on the destination you are about to visit. Research the travel operators or destination, and read the reviews and complaints of other travellers. Some zoos, safari parks and aquariums may have directly contributed to the poaching of animals from the wild, or resorted to cruel and stressful training methods. Avoid any travel attraction featuring performing animals. Animals performing tricks do not teach you anything about the natural history of the animal, their conservation status or their needs.

· True ecotourism will take into account natural resource and waste management, provide empowerment and economic opportunities to indigenous and local communities, minimises environmental impact, and fosters environmental awareness and respect for the environment, local population and animals. Good ecotourism practices may include activities such as beach and reef cleanups, tree-planting, data collection work and other hands-on activities that enable holidaymakers to make a positive difference to the ecologically sensitive site they are visiting.

We encourage all travellers and netizens to be proactive and play the role of the eyes and ears of non-governmental organisations and enforcement agencies, since a boycott by a handful of individuals may not have the same leverage and impact as a public campaign to end harmful practices and prosecute offenders. The trade in and consumption of wildlife should be reported to WWF Malaysia, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks or the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) Hotline. Cruelty to and mistreatment of wildlife should be reported to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the state SPCA, which can then assist in investigations and lodge an official report with the Department of Veterinary Services. Any offence involving marine life should be reported to the Department of Fisheries and Marine Parks. Responsible tourism begins with you and me. It is up to us not to invest in cruelty and environmental damage and destruction. It is hoped that the culprits in the turtle harassment video and pictures will face the maximum penalties stipulated under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 and / or Fisheries Act 1985.


Monday, August 13, 2012

A Wheelie Good Idea



By Wong Ee Lynn

What's durable, attractive, fun to play with and costs next to nothing? Why, empty laundry detergent bottles and milk jugs, of course! Don't believe us? Check out the photo collage below of various toy vehicles made from discarded household containers and bottle caps and plastic lids. Once the labels have been removed, the "vehicle bodies" don't even need to be painted over, which makes environmental sense as they will be easier to send for recycling once broken or once you get tired of them.

(Photo credits: La Bioguia Facebook page.)

Designed by artist Martine Camillieri, these toy vehicles are a great example of what happens when creativity meets environmental responsibility. Empty bottles and containers could be reused indefinitely until they break, and then they could be sent for recycling.

Although the artist did not provide instructions on how to make these wonderful toys, we can use the resources at hand to try to make toy vehicles with bottle cap wheels that really turn.

Get an adult to help you drill holes in the bottom of the bottle where the axles of the vehicle should go. Be sure to measure the bottle first. If you drill the holes too high, the wheels might not reach the ground. You can make axles from used disposable bamboo chopsticks. Get an adult to measure the chopsticks and cut them into their desired lengths (slightly longer than the width of the bottle), and then glue the bottle caps to the chopstick using silicone glue, epoxy or other strong glue. Make sure you do it in a well-ventilated area, as the glue fumes can be very bad for your health.

If you have the patience, you can also cut windows and hatches for your vehicle before decorating them with stickers or illustrations. Now you are ready to have a wheelie good time with your new toy vehicles!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What are "E.M. Mudballs" and do they work?


By Wong Ee Lynn

We often hear of "E.M. Mudballs" being thrown into rivers and seas during beach and river cleanup campaigns. These mudballs purportedly contain properties that will purify water, improve water quality and solve sanitation problems. Why is it that we have never heard about these miraculous mud balls before, and what is the science behind them?


An effective microorganism ("E.M.") refers to any of the predominantly anaerobic organisms blended in commercial agricultural amendments, medicines, and nutritional supplements based on the trademarked product originally marketed as EM-1 Microbial Inoculant, aka Effective Microorganisms and EM Technology. These blends are reported to include:
* Lactic acid bacteria: Lactobacillus casei
* Photosynthetic bacteria: Rhodopseudomonas palustris
* Yeast: Saccharomyces cerevisiae
* Others: beneficial microorganisms that exist naturally in the environment may thrive in the mixture.
EM Technology is purported to support sustainable practices in farming and to improve and support human health and hygiene, compost and waste management, disaster clean-up (the Bangkok floods of 2011, the Southeast Asia tsunami of 2004, the Kobe earthquake, and Hurricane Katrina remediation projects).


The concept of "friendly microorganisms" was developed by Professor Teruo Higa, from the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan.


The Effective Microorganisms (EM) concept is considered controversial in some quarters. There is no scientific evidence to support all of its proponents' claims. This is acknowledged by Higa in a 1994 paper co-authored by Higa and soil microbiologist James F Parr, a USDA Research, they conclude in that, "the main the problem of reproducibility and lack of consistent results."

Many of the claims about "EM" are being put to the test and research is being conducted by scientists to find out the effectiveness of EM mud balls as biological control and water purification agents. None of the scientific papers published so far seem to give any real evidence of the beneficial effects of EM.


Doubts are also raised as to whether the microorganisms in the mud balls are able to survive in environments such as heavily polluted seawater. Temperature, pH, salinity, oxygen density, redox potential, concentrations of preferred nutrients, concentrations of co-substrates and presence of toxicants affect the survivability and persistence of any single species or combination of species of microorganisms introduced into an environment. Microorganisms that have been introduced into an environment are usually less able to grow in that environment, compared to indigenous microbial populations or microorganisms that have had time to gradually adapt to environmental changes.

Whenever an organism is to be introduced into a natural environment, careful study must be conducted to assess its impact on the ecology of the environment. Even where an organism is native to an environment, a sudden influx of a single species or a group of species will alter population dynamics in the ecosystem and may result in long term negative consequences. The risks of introduced/invasive species are now well-recognised.

Since EM functions by overwhelming existing microbial populations, haphazard andcontinuous use of EM threatens to alter our environment and reduce microbial diversity. Continuously using EM freely and abundantly with poor understanding of its consequences is reckless. Even though EM is promoted as consisting of “naturally-occurring microorganisms”, they may not occur naturally in the environments to which they are applied.


The variety of claims made by EM proponents is astounding and borders on pseudoscience. Governments, corporations and organisations that promote or endorse the use of EM mudballs appear to be content to rely on anecdotal advice without examining the science behind EM mudballs. Even if EM Mudballs do work (and right now there is no evidence that they do), their positive effect on water quality, if any, is only fleeting. The problem of water pollution must be addressed at the source. No amount of mud balls and commercial products can help improve water quality if there is still discharge of wastewater, pollutants, industrial and agricultural runoffs and litter into our waterways. In order to improve the state of our rivers, waterways and beaches, Malaysians need to be proactive about reducing waste, managing solid and liquid waste efficiently, managing stormwater, reducing pollution and regulating industrial and agricultural waste, among others.

At your next beach or river cleanup, Green Living's advice to you is to focus on picking up litter and not waste your time and energy on fads and fallacies.

(Photo credits: The Star, available at:

Information extracted and compiled from: and