Malaysia: WWF calls for gazetting of Setiu wetlands as protected state park

ADRIAN DAVID New Straits Times 10 Oct 16;

KUALA TERENGANU: Gazetting the Setiu wetlands as a protected state park is crucial in conserving it as a critical water catchment area and maintaining its biodiverse ecosystem.

In making the call, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia’s Setiu Wetlands conservation team leader, Dr Wan Faridah Akmal Wan Jusoh, said authorities should make concerted efforts to formulate effective laws to ensure the protection of the park’s flora and fauna.

“Wetlands are environmentally-sensitive and high conservation-value areas that need proper protection against development into aqua- and agriculture land.

“Worse still is when wetlands are developed into incompatible industrial or housing estates,” she said in her paper ‘Experiencing Setiu Wetlands: Connecting communities and conservation’ at the Terengganu International Eco and Marine Tourism Conference (Temco) at the Primula Beach Hotel.

Dr Faridah added that a balanced and sustainable development is important to protect wetlands which are vital not just for plants and animals, but our own well-being and quality of life.

“Wetlands provide numerous benefits for people, ranging from food resources, building materials, water supply, flood mitigation, erosion control, economic income and fisheries livelihood.

“We should also remember that wetlands provide great potential as ecotourism destinations that can generate additional or alternate income for local communities,” said Dr Faridah, who is also Setiu Wetlands senior programme officer.

She warned that wetlands are increasingly facing threats from degradation due to land conversion and expansion for unsustainable practices that lead to water pollution from sedimentation caused by land clearing.

“Unregulated coastal development affects key nesting beaches for turtles, terrapins and birds. To stop the degradation of wetlands, we need to strengthen the local communities’ abilities and interests to conserve natural resources which they depend on,” said Dr Faridah.

She called for local communities to be integrated into conservation, tourism and development planning, as they are the key stewards of wetlands.

“Working in synergy with communities, government agencies and non-government organisations is crucial to achieving lasting conservation solutions,” she said.

Meanwhile, Temco organizing chairman Alex Lee, who is also Terengganu Tourist Association deputy president, said that apart from the Setiu wetlands, the conference also discussed various conservation efforts for the Setiu boardwalk, the Marang River Safari, bird watching activities, BRIS (beach ridges interspersed with swales) forests and boat building.

Also discussed were issues related to fishing villages, turtle hatcheries, terrapuri, fireflies, mangroves, river cruises, fish and oyster farming, the anchovy and budu industries, and local handicrafts such as lekar (pot stand woven from bamboo or rattan), kerecut, tikar (mat) and atap nipah.

“Swales are depression areas that are seasonally water logged to form freshwater swamps, while the ridges remain dry.

“The gelam putih tree, or melaleuca cajuputi, grows well in BRIS areas to form gelam forests,” said Lee.

In his conference welcome speech, Terengganu tourism and culture committee deputy chairman II Tengku Zaihan Che Ku Abdul Rahman said Temco is an ideal platform for Visit Terengganu Year 2017.

“Temco offers great potential for eco- and marine-tourism, with its unique products which are a wonderful spectacle for nature lovers and tourists alike.

“Every effort should be done to preserve wetlands and other tourism heritages for the benefit of future generations, rather than wantonly damaging them with excessive development,” said Tengku Zaihan.

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