Call to conserve seagrasses in Johor

Seagrass site of great value
The Star 1 Jan 09;

JOHOR is endowed with amazing biodiversity and has much to offer everyone, be it the tourist, naturalist or researcher.

It has the Panti bird sanctuary, the fabled Mt Ledang, Endau Rompin, several beautiful islands and now the amazing Merambong sea grass located close to the estuary of Sungai Pulai (Gelang Patah), which is the biggest in Malaysia and boasts a rich assortment of biota, including the sea cow or dugong and sea horse (hippocampus). These are species vulnerable to extinction.

The sea grass beds are the nursery of many fishes, shrimps and shellfish, which provide a perfect natural sanctuary for them to thrive and grow.

But sadly, we Malaysians only know about migration of birds when there is so much of migratory fishes plying between the Malacca Straits and the Riau Archipelago which we are ignorant of. This is unpublished research which needs to be pursued further.

I sincerely urge the Fisheries Department to play a proactive role in conserving this valuable site along with the neighbouring sea grasses and work with Taman Laut and other statutory bodies to gazette this site.

They have a good overview of the sea grass community, having done several similar studies in the South China Sea.

Presently, it is perceived that the Fisheries Department is only interested in commercial farming and aqua culture.

Its role is supposed to be much wider and diverse. A balance is imperative as this would be vital to long-term conservation and promulgation efforts.

Without preservation of such habitats, we would not have enough of fish, which is a source of valuable protein.

I strongly urge the Fisheries Department to act fast before our natural resources are depleted beyond sustainability.

Besides the gazetting of the valuable sea grass, more research and crucial work need to be undertaken on habitat preservation and fish migration in collaboration with our universities and also our Asean partner nations which has a stake in this migratory flow of fishes.

Understanding their flow cycle and habitats would assist us in conserving their nurseries more professionally.

Perhaps the Fisheries Department should immediately take an inventory of the area and determine the extent of pollution where these sea grasses are located and establish buffer zones in view of the rapid development of the adjacent areas earmarked for industrial development.

An integrated plan is needed to integrate the coral reefs of Pulau Merambong, the mangroves and sea grass holistically as they form a vital ecosystem in the conservation process.

The future of this rich biodiversity legacy and living heritage (sea grass meadows) of Johor needs urgent attention, more so as this area is close to the Iskandar Development region.

Perhaps the Iskandar Develop­ment authorities should also take an interest in this area as it is part of the natural green lungs of this integrated development region and will be scrutinised by the investors on how much we really care for our environment.

Kuala Lumpur.