Friday, March 28, 2014

Letter to the Editor: Protect RAMSAR Sites and Seagrass Meadows

Letter to the Editor 
Protect RAMSAR sites and seagrass meadows against further degradation

(Photo taken of Knobbly Sea Stars (Protoeaster nodosus) at the Sg. Pulai seagrass meadow) 

It is with dismay that MNS Green Living learned of the Johor State Government's plans to degazette 2 ecologically sensitive wetland habitats listed as RAMSAR sites (NST, 26 March 2014). It is alarming that state governments are making unanimous and arbitrary decisions to degazette forest and mangrove reserves and delist RAMSAR sites without consulting environmental organisations or the local community. 

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and its volunteers have carried out data collection and coastal cleanup projects at Pulau Merambong, Sungai Pulai, Tanjung Piai, and Pulau Kukup in the past and can attest to the diversity of flora and fauna in these sites. 

Over the years, however, coastal erosion and environmental degradation has adversely affected the water quality and marine biodiversity in the said sites. However, degazettement would be the irresponsible and counterintuitive thing to do. The logical response to the degradation of the sites would be to create buffer zones and take other measures to protect the sites against destruction, pollution, overfishing and other harm. Instead of degazetting the degraded sites, effort should be made to restore the sites and to seek RAMSAR listing for other wetlands of international importance. 

The seagrass meadows of Sg Pulai are especially deserving of protection due to their importance to the environment and local communities. Seagrass meadows provide coastal zones with a number of ecosystem goods and ecosystem services, including stabilising the sea bottom, providing food and habitat for other marine organisms, maintaining water quality, supporting local fishing communities, wave protection, oxygen production and protection against coastal erosion. Seagrass meadows account for 15% of the ocean’s total carbon storage. It is estimated that per hectare, seagrass meadows hold twice as much carbon dioxide as rainforests. Yearly, seagrasses sequester about 27.4 million tons of carbon dioxide. 

 The habitat complexity of the Sg. Pulai seagrass meadows, Pulau Merambong, Pulau Kukup and Tanjung Piai enhances the diversity and abundance of animals. These ecologically-sensitive sites provide food and shelter for many organisms including seahorses and dugong, and are a nursery ground for commercially-important prawn and fish species, and thus contribute to local economic activity. 

It is regrettable that while environmental organisations such as MNS and Save Our Seahorses (SOS) Malaysia strive tirelessly to educate members of the public on the importance of conserving wetlands, estuaries and seagrass meadows, state governments and those in a decision-making capacity are trading our natural treasures and ecological heritage for short-term financial gains. We therefore strongly urge that the Johor State Government reconsiders its plans to delist the RAMSAR sites and instead take concrete action to protect these ecologically important zones. 

MNS Green Living, 
Malaysian Nature Society

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Earth Day Activities for Young Earth Warriors


By Wong Ee Lynn

Earth Day falls on April 22 each year, and it is recognised all over the world as a day on which we celebrate and give thanks to Planet Earth and Mother Nature. Governments may discuss ways to protect the environment on this day, and this can lead to important decisions being made that can benefit mankind and the Earth. Ordinary citizens including schoolchildren learn ways they can protect the environment and help plants and wildlife. Sometimes, people may feel disheartened and discouraged and think that we are doing too little, too late to help Planet Earth. But every action makes a difference, and we should never stop doing things that we know to be good for the environment, animals and society.

Here are some ways you can observe and celebrate Earth Day this April:

1. Plant a tree. Plant a new tree in your garden, or if you don't have a spot for a tree, you can find out from Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) and Landskap Malaysia if they could plant one on your behalf upon a donation being made. If you live near a community forest such as Bukit Gasing or Kota Damansara Community Forest, you can plant a tree there as well. Choose a native tree or plant, especially one that produces fruits or flowers that can provide food for native birds, animals and insects.

2. Go on a hike and celebrate the beauty of our wonderful Planet. If you live in Kuala Lumpur or Selangor, here are some of the hiking/trekking spots you can visit: Templer Park, Lembah Kiara Park, Bukit Gasing, Bukit Nenas Forest Reserve, FRIM and Kota Damansara Community Forest. Bring a few rubbish bags and gardening gloves along so you can pick up any rubbish you find along the trails.

3. Learn about composting and set up a compost bin. You can find out more about composting here:

4. Brainstorm ways that your family can do more in helping the Earth. Do you need to turn off the lights and appliances more often? Can you recycle more? Can you replace paper items with cloth, such as napkins and cleaning rags? Can you reduce the number of documents you print? Perhaps you can try to keep your clothes cleaner so you won't have to do so many loads of laundry. Or how about driving less, and carpooling to activities with friends, or taking public transport instead?

5. Observe birds and wildlife. Learn about what animals need from us to live and remain in their environment. Can we do more to help them? It can be something as simple as watching a backyard bird feeder outside your window. Or perhaps you can put up some form of fencing around trees where birds gather to stop the neighbourhood cats and dogs from chasing and harming the birds.

6. Plant a garden. Try to grow your own vegetables this year. Not only will you be eating healthier, but you'll be reducing your carbon footprint. If you don't have room for a garden, grow some potted herbs on your windowsill. And if you really don't have a green thumb, vow to shop at your local farmer's market more this year. Local environmental organisation CETDEM holds a Hari Organik farmers' market every few months.

7. Hold a Jumble Sale: Pick out all the books, clothes, toys and other items you no longer need or want to keep, and sort them out for recycling, donating or sale. Hold a jumble sale to sell all the items that are still in good condition, and announce the event to your friends and neighbours. If you don't have the time or space for a Jumble Sale, then hold the sale online. Take photos of the items for sale and post them on Facebook or your blog with the asking price and a brief description of the item. Your friends can place their orders and pick the items up from you at home. You can then donate the proceeds of sale to your favourite wildlife / environmental protection organisation.

8. Make your own recycling bins: Make your own recycling bins (or bags) out of boxes, baskets, old toy storage units or cloth shopping bags. Decorate them as attractively as possible to encourage your friends and family members to notice and use them. You can also write or illustrate environmental tips and mottos on your recycling bins.

9. Do the No Impact Experiment in one day. Stand in a tub or large pail when you shower to see how much water you use during each shower. Stick a sheet of paper to the toilet cistern and tick on the paper each time you or someone else flushes the toilet. Think up ways you can reduce your water usage. Go through your household rubbish for the day. What do you throw away most of? Can you find ways to reduce the wastage of this item? Check the number of appliances used in your home. What should have been switched off, or put away when not in use? Are there any appliances whose function can be done more efficiently by hand? Can you go on a one-day "carbon cleanse" and not use any electrical appliances (except for perhaps the refrigerator and the fan)?

10. Go Car-Free: Car Free Day falls on Sept 22, but there is no reason why you can't go car-free other days of the year. Choose a day the same week as Earth Day to go car-free and walk, cycle or take public transport instead.

11. Hold a Book/Toy Swap with your friends: Pick out all the books, toys, games and CDs/DVDs you no longer want, and hold a toy/book/video swap with your friends. Everyone gets to go home with something new to him/her, and you get to share resources and prevent waste!

12. Replace disposable items with reusable and sustainable ones. Earth Day is a good day to break out of your old habits of carrying and using tissue paper or buying things that come in Styrofoam packaging or plastic bags. This Earth Day, form new and better habits of carrying reusable shopping bags, refillable water bottles, washable food containers and handkerchiefs with you everywhere you go. Give yourself a star on a chart each time you remember to bring your own drinking water, handkerchief, reusable shopping bag or food container whenever you go out of your house.


What Goes Into Your Cuppa? Coffee Labelling and Certification


By Wong Ee Lynn

After tobacco and cotton, conventionally-produced coffee is the third most heavily chemically-treated crop in the world. Not only are some of the synthetic pesticides and fertilizers used banned in most developed nations; they’re often used without any genuine regulatory supervision.

While some people fear pesticide residues in their coffee, there have been reports that since it’s the coffee cherry that has these chemicals applied to it, the complete removal of the fruit/pulp during
processing would mean no chemical residue was present in or on the beans. Such reports add that roasting the beans to the usual high internal temperatures (above 400°F) would drive off any chemical residue that might, by chance, remain. Others disagree; there has been speculation that agrochemicals may be taken up through the roots into coffee plants, in which case coffee beans could be carrying their residues.

Consumers also need to consider the adverse effect of all this chemical use on the coffee farmers, their families, and the environment. Runoff from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers contaminates both land and water for the people who grow coffee plants, causing immediate as well as long-term health problems. The chemicals themselves wipe out many species of plant and animal (especially insect) life indigenous to any area where they’re applied, and there’s no lack of evidence to suggest that both direct and indirect contact with many of these agrochemicals makes people very sick, especially children.

As responsible consumers, we must all strive to choose the most sustainable and socially and environmentally responsible coffee products available. The following is a list of labels and certifications and what they mean, as well as examples of such coffee products available in Malaysia.

1. Organic coffee:
As with other organic crops, certified organic coffee is grown without most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and is fairly sustainable, although there is no criteria for shade cover. Because of coffee’s growth requirements, it’s likely that organic coffee has been grown under some kind of shade. However, many farmers shade their coffee using other crops or non-native, heavily pruned trees that provide substantially less habitat for birds, and the organic label offers no information about this.
As part of organic regulations, organic coffee must be grown on land that has not seen the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or other prohibited substances for three years, there must be a sufficient buffer zone between the organic coffee and any conventional crop, and the farmer must have a suitable crop rotation plan to help prevent soil erosion, pests and the depletion of soil nutrients.
Examples of organic coffee available in Malaysia: Nature's Cuppa, Ikea Ekologist Bryggkaffe Mellanrost, Doi Chaang Coffee, Boncafe Organic.
2. Bird-Friendly.

Certified by scientists from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, this coffee is organic and meets strict requirements for both the amount of shade and the type of forest in which the coffee is grown. Bird Friendly coffee farms are unique places where forest canopy and working farm merge into a single habitat. By paying a little extra and insisting on Bird Friendly coffee, you can help farmers hold out against economic pressures and continue preserving these valuable lands.

3. Rainforest Alliance.

The most popular environmentally friendly certification for coffee as well as tea, cocoa, and fruits, Rainforest Alliance requires alternatives to chemical and pesticide use (although they stop short of organic certification), erosion control, restricted water use, and ecosystem management efforts. Because Rainforest Alliance develops standards for a wide range of farms, their shade-cover requirements are not as demanding as Bird Friendly coffee. Also, Rainforest Alliance allows coffee blends to be sold with the Rainforest Alliance label even if only a percentage of the beans (currently only 30 percent, with plans to scale up to 90 percent) carry the certification. Rainforest Alliance has a laudable goal to make a difference on a fairly large scale (they certified 540 million pounds of coffee in 2011), but there is no guarantee their certified coffee farms meet the wintering needs of migrant songbirds.

4. Shade-grown.
“Shade-grown” labels often appear on specialty coffees, but unfortunately this designation is not regulated and doesn’t tell you much about the growing conditions at the farm. When the idea for Bird Friendly coffee was hatched by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in 1996, plans for the certification process faltered while coffee companies quickly adopted the term “shade-grown” as a marketing buzzword. Unfortunately, this type of coffee can be grown among sparse trees on farms that lack diverse forest structure. Some shade-grown coffee is even grown under only the flimsy cover of banana trees fed artificial fertilizers and pesticides.

5. Fair Trade:

Fair Trade coffee can help farmers escape poverty. Most small-scale family farmers live in remote locations and lack access to credit, so they are vulnerable to middlemen who offer cash for their coffee at a fraction of its value. Fair Trade guarantees farmers a minimum price, and links farmers directly with importers, creating long-term sustainability. Through Fair Trade, farmers earn better incomes, allowing them to hold on to their land and invest in quality. Fairtrade Standards for coffee act as a safety net against the unpredictable market. They provide security to coffee producers so that they will get a price that covers their average costs of sustainable production.
Examples of Fair Trade coffee available in Malaysia: Tesco Finest Fairtrade Espresso, Doi Chaang Coffee.
6. UTZ Certified:
UTZ Certified is a label and programme for sustainable farming of agricultural products launched in 2002, for coffee, tea, cocoa, and other products. UTZ Certified products are traceable from grower to end product manufacturers (e.g. in coffee this is the roaster). The foundation operates a web-based track-and-trace system, showing the buyers of UTZ certified products links to the certified source(s). Some coffee brands and retailers also provide their customers with this transparency through online coffee tracers. Independent, third party auditors make annual inspections to ensure coffee producers comply with the Code of Conduct. Coffee with an UTZ certification has added value in the sense that it assures buyers that their coffee has been produced according to an internationally recognized standard for responsible production, i.e. according to the UTZ Certified Code of Conduct. Buyers recognize this extra value by paying coffee growers a price premium for UTZ-certified coffee. An UTZ certification empowers coffee growers to negotiate a better price for their product. They have access to information about average prices and premiums for the all the coffees sold as UTZ Certified. Furthermore, twice a year a Supply & Demand Analysis is published, where the major trends from the past and the expectations for the future are presented. This publication is an important source of information both for producers and buyers.
Examples of UTZ-certified coffee available in Malaysia: Ikea Ekologist Bryggkaffe Mellanrost.