Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Letter to the Editor: Trading In Coral Reef Products Will Cause Irreparable Harm


It is with alarm that Malaysians learned of the Minister of Agriculture and Agro-based Industries' plan to increase the export of coral reefs (Bernama News, April 24, 2015). The fact that there is "high interest abroad" for Malaysian coral reef is all the more reason for us to protect our coral reefs against poaching, plundering and destruction. The very suggestion that the Ministry wishes to exploit and trade in our local coral reefs for profit is tantamount to a breach of duty by those tasked with the responsibility of protecting our marine resources.
It has often been said that coral reefs are the rainforests of the oceans. Coral reefs cover less than 0.1% of the Earth's surface, yet over 25% of all marine life exists in coral ecosystems. Coral reefs provide a variety of ecosystem services, including as a nursery ground and source of food and shelter to fish and invertebrates. Coral reefs also act as natural wave breakers that protect coasts from wave erosion.
From an anthropocentric and economic point of view, coral reefs have more value intact than degraded and destroyed for trade. Scientific estimates put the value of coral reefs at USD115,740 per hectare annually. This means that Malaysia’s coral reefs, with a cover of approximately 4,000 square kilometres, would be valued at RM145 billion per year. Coral reefs form the foundation of a significant percentage of Malaysia’s tourism industry and are a more sustainable source of income for locals if protected and kept intact, than if traded and exported.
Properly-managed coral reefs can yield an average of 15 tonnes of fish and other seafood per square kilometre each year. It is estimated that coral reef-related businesses in Malaysia, namely, food, fisheries, tourism and pharmaceuticals, is worth approximately USD365 million annually.
A World Resources Institute report in 2012 found that over 85% of the coral reefs in the ‘Coral Triangle’ (which includes Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines) are threatened by both natural phenomena and human activity. This is substantially more than the global average of 60%.
According to Reef Check Malaysia, coastal development, destructive fishing practices, overexploitation of resources for fishing, increasing coastal populations, poor land use practices, runoff of pollutants, sediments, disease outbreaks associated with poor water quality and pollutants, coral bleaching associated with rising sea temperatures and the destruction of coastal mangrove forests have caused grave degradation and damage to our coral reefs.
Just because Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam control most of the world's coral reef exports does not mean that this is a race Malaysia has to participate in. It would be foolhardy and naive to believe that once trade in coral reefs and organisms is opened up, it could be efficiently and adequately regulated and monitored. Malaysia already has a global reputation as a hub for the illegal wildlife trade. Opening up trade in corals would only reinforce this reputation.
With so much effort being poured into protecting coral reefs and banning or restricting the sale of corals by the international conservation community, exporting and trading in corals would only fuel demand, both for legally farmed and illegally harvested corals. DNA markers can only be used to trace where the corals originate from if there is sufficient documented data. This requires a lot of work and research funds. A successful coral farm would first have to be established and a database created for all cultured coral, and all such corals can then be certified farmed and sustainable. However, the question that remains is whether the importers and purchasers care enough to implement such measures and seek certification. This technology is expensive, not easily available and not a legal requirement by most importing and exporting countries. It stands to reason that those in the aquarium trade would not voluntarily opt to have the DNA testing performed. Most of the people in Southeast Asia who harvest corals are the poor in coastal communities who do not have the capital or knowledge to set up a sustainable coral farm, while those who purchase corals from the poor are unlikely to be concerned about sustainability.
Like many concerned Malaysians, I would like to know if a feasibility study has been conducted on this coral farming and exporting venture. Coral farming is often a difficult, long and unsuccessful process, and it could take decades before there is any return on investment. The rate of coral growth depends on the species. Even acropora coral, which is recognised to be a fast-growing species, grows at most only one inch a year. Coral breeding has proven unsuccessful in many countries and most corals would not grow on artificial reefs. In order to start a coral farming programme, one still has to break off live coral to use as starters, and this causes damage to existing reefs and marine ecosystems.
The claims that coral farming is profitable and sustainable are usually made only by those involved in the coral trade, rarely ever by conservation groups and scientific bodies. It is almost impossible to succeed in the coral trade by coral farming alone, and most traders end up harvesting and poaching corals from the wild to satisfy consumer demand. A significant percentage of the corals used in the aquarium trade are inaccurately passed off as farmed or sustainably harvested.
It seems strange that the Malaysian government, which has expressed its fears that foreign researchers would conduct bioprospecting on and patent Malaysia’s natural resources, would want to leave our corals vulnerable to the same by exporting them and opening the doors wide to bioprospectors. There is a very real risk that once our corals are freely traded and available all over the world, bioprospectors would develop and commercialise products based on our corals and we would lose the intellectual property rights to the same.
Enforcement-wise, the weak knowledge of our customs officers of corals and the lack of political will means that regulation and enforcement exists only on paper. There are too many loopholes in our laws, and based on observation of the current state of Malaysian coral reefs and the wildlife trade, our customs and enforcement agencies are not prepared for the duty of protecting coral reefs from overharvesting and exploitation.
The coral reef and aquarium trade appears superficially lucrative, but it remains unclear what economic benefit flows to the exporting country. In Fiji, the economic benefits of the coral and aquarium fish trades were limited to a few villages, while the rest of the local fishing community suffered losses due to the decline in fisheries. Mozambique had to finally impose a complete ban on the export of coral and coral fishes in 1999 due to the destruction wreaked on coral reefs, despite the existence of a licensing and enforcement system. Caribbean coral reefs are now in danger of disappearing altogether within the next 20 years due to overfishing, pollution and fish and coral trade and exports.
It is not too late for the Malaysian government to reconsider this project, which has unclear beneficiaries and which would lead to irreparable damage to marine ecosystems. Instead of spending RM2.7 million of taxpayers' money on such a dubious venture, the government should instead invest in gazetting more sensitive and biologically-diverse marine areas and improving the current management of reefs and marine parks.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Event Announcement: MNS Green Living Earth Day Taman Rimba Ampang Cleanup

Come lend Mother Nature a helping hand this Earth Day weekend! Green Living will be organising a cleanup session at Taman Rimba Ampang, a popular picnic site and recreational fores, as a way of honouring Mother Earth, taking back our public spaces and educating picnickers and members of the public on the importance of keeping public and green spaces clean.

Date: Saturday, 25th April 2015
Time: 9.00 a.m. - 12.00 noon
Meeting Point: Entrance of Taman Rimba Ampang 
We will provide:
- Fruits for a waste-free breakfast
- Drinking water for refills (Please bring your own water bottles)
- Mosquito repellent
- Rubbish bags and reusable gloves
- Green Living publications for those who want copies
Please bring:
- Your own drinking water bottles
- Sunblock and any medication
- Fire tongs / rubbish tongs, if you have one
- A phone or camera phone for the Photo Contest
All cleanup participants will be eligible to participate in the Earth Day Cleanup Photo Contest. Photos will be uploaded to the Facebook event page. Prizes will be given for the most highly-rated photos in the following categories:
- Best 'Before & After' Photo
- Most Creative Photo
- Best Cleanup Action Photo
- Funniest Photo 

The Facebook event page is as follows:
Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Eco Kids Column: Volunteering Without Leaving Your Home

By Wong Ee Lynn
The Green Living and Eco Kids team often receives queries from big-hearted people who wish to volunteer for worthy causes but are unable to commit to a regular volunteering schedule. Some of these people are elderly folk, some are busy parents, some live very far from town and some just do not have the time, resources or means of travelling in order to volunteer at a particular place on a regular basis. A great many of these queries come from children who want to be able to do something to help people, animals or the environment.

If you are a young person with no income, no driving license and a busy school schedule, here are some suggestions as to how you can still volunteer without leaving your home.
As you know, there are collection bins for light bulbs, used batteries, old phones and broken electrical appliances outside the front door of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) headquarters in Jalan Kelantan. There are also recycling bins to collect paper, glass, plastic and metal waste at the MNS office as well as in other locations.
Some of these recycling collection centres also collect reusable items such as books, clothes and toys, for charity.
If there are no recycling bins near your home or in your school, ask your parents' permission to set up a small area to collect and store recyclables in your home. It can be a series of boxes, bins or sturdy bags hung on a hook. 
Once your parents have consented to collecting and transporting these items for you, you can inform your friends, neighbours, classmates and relatives about your recycling centre, and encourage them to pass their recyclables to you. You can make flyers and posters to inform others of what they can or cannot hand over for recycling, or you can announce it via social media and phone.
Your job is to keep the recyclables organised and clean. Wash or rinse out all cans and bottles. Keep used batteries in a dry, clean jar in a dark, cool place to reduce the risk of leakage and corrosion. Sort items into their correct categories. 
Once your bags or boxes are full or whenever you or your parents are passing through areas where the recycling and collection bins are located, drop these items off and bring home your empty bags and boxes to be filled up all over again. This way, you prevent a lot of waste from ending up in landfills, and you reduce the need for others to drive. It's a win-win situation for all.    

People often inquire about where they can send old clothes for donation or recycling. Many recycling centres collect old clothes to sell in developing countries, especially in Africa. The money goes to the charities that collect the clothes here in Malaysia. A better option would be to donate the clothes directly to the groups and people that need them the most. Your job is to set up a Used Clothes Collection Centre in the same fashion as the recycling and e-waste collection centre described above. Launder and dry any clothes that do not seem particularly clean, or that smell musty. Sort the clothes into Men's, Womén's and Children's clothes. Set aside anything torn, worn out or badly stained.
Groups such as Need To Feed The Need (NFN) ( will accept all clothes for the homeless and urban poor. Groups such as Reach Out Malaysia ( and Kechara Soup Kitchen ( need mostly men's clothes for the homeless in Kuala Lumpur, which comprises mostly men.
Refugee organisations and refugee schools will usually also accept clothes for women and children, so please give them a call to see if they will take your donation.
You can also request your friends and family to bring you unused travel-sized bottles of shampoo and soap from their hotel stays, and once you have enough, you can hand them over to these organisations to distribute to the homeless, who will find these small toiletry items easier to take with them than regular-sized toiletries. This is a good way of putting these toiletries to use, rather than let them clutter up your cabinets.
What can you do with the torn, worn out and stained clothing described above? You can make toys for shelter animals using the said items. Toys help animals feel more relaxed and less stressed out. Playing games keeps animals alert, active and happy. Cut the old clothes into thick strips and braid them into tug toys. If you don't know how to braid, ask your mother, sister or friend to show you how. Tie the rag braids at both ends tightly so that it would not come undone easily. You can also make a cloth ball by knotting strips of cloth repeatedly until it forms a tight ball. Or you can make a rug for baby animals and nursing mama cats and dogs by laying several braided tug toys together and then stitching them all into a rug. Make as many tug toys, cloth balls and pet rugs as you can. When you do get the opportunity to visit the nearest animal shelter, hand them your contributions. This project will keep old clothes out of landfills and also create inexpensive, waste-free toys for shelter animals.

Some of the community gardens and edible gardens in the Klang Valley include the Free Tree Society of Kuala Lumpur (, the TTDI Edible Garden ( and Eats Shoots and Roots ( Some gardens may not have their own websites and Facebook pages but are managed by residents' associations next to community centres and playgrounds and can be found in neighbourhoods all over the country. Contact the volunteers managing the gardens and offer to grow plants for them to replant or give away. This is rather like being a foster parent to plants. Young plants often get eaten by insects, snails or other pests, so you can help these gardens by growing and caring for plants until they are big or strong enough to be transplanted into the ground. Collect used paper cups, juice cartons and other containers that you can use as planting pots. Poke little holes in the bottom of the cups and cartons for drainage so that your plant's roots will not be waterlogged. Fill around 1/3 of the cartons and cups with gravel or pebbles for drainage. Fill the rest of it with potting soil. Collect the seeds from the fruits and vegetables that you eat. Leave a ripe tomato or chilli on the kitchen counter to dry out for the seeds. You can also collect carrot tops, sweet potato stalks and mint stems for planting. Plant these into your planters and water your plants in moderation. Your successful plants can be donated to these community gardens.
Request nicely for unused postcards from relatives and friends who travel or collect free postcards. Sign up for YellowHouseKL's e-volunteering programme at Fill in the postcards and mail them to YellowHouseKL for their onward transmission to children in hospitals and juvenile detention centres. This is a good way of using up postcards that you would not otherwise know what to do with.

As with collecting clothes and recyclables, you can set up a Book Collection Centre and Book Hospital to collect and repair books for charity. Collect books from your friends and family and sort through them. Catalogues, used and outdated reference books and schoolbooks and manuals should go into the paper recycling bin. Sort books into books for children and adults. Wipe the covers with a damp cloth to clean them and air-dry them for a day before you wrap them. Repair torn pages and wrap book covers in plastic wrap (You can reuse the clear smooth plastic bags that new clothes come in to wrap books with). Books for adults can go to community libraries (often in community centres) or the Green Living Little Free Library at the MNS HQ. Books for children can go to various refugee schools and community learning centres, and organisations such as The Revolving Library ( and the Lorong Kurau Bangsar Community Library.

There are no limits to what causes you can volunteer for once you have  made up your mind to help. Contact the organisations you are interested in and offer your best skills. There are many ways you can get your friends involved so that you can encourage and motivate one another as volunteers. What else can you think of? How about a charity birthday party during which your guests fill in postcards, make pet toys, bake pet treats, and clean and repair used books and toys for others? No contribution, however small, goes unappreciated!
"How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it."
- George Ellison