Malaysia: Oil spills in Southwest Johor

The coast is clear for 'murder'
Sim Bak Heng New Straits Times 3 Jul 12;

THE southwest monsoon has never been kind to us. The change in wind course in May heralds the beginning of a dry spell that lasts till September every year. There is little rain but much haze.

For southwest Johor, especially at the southernmost tip of Asia, the wind brings more spills than thrills -- oil sludge.

Oil tankers on the Malacca Straits generously dump sludge into the water just before entering Singapore waters or continuing on their journey to other parts of the world.

The black and greasy solid substance is the waste produced by oil tankers, which is supposed to be sent for proper disposal at the right channel. Sadly, disposing of it in the water is the cheapest and most convenient way.

An enforcement officer, whose duty is to check oil tankers suspected of the dirty deed, says that the oil sludge is usually packed in gunny sacks and kicked overboard.

To evade the law, this is usually done in international waters under cover of darkness.

During the northeast monsoon, the oil sludge will drift to the Karimun Islands in Indonesia or sink to the bottom of the sea, depending on the strength of the current.

When the southwest monsoon blows, the oil sludge will move towards Tanjung Piai or Kukup -- to pollute the coast and destroy the mangroves.

Those who have visited Tanjung Piai in the aftermath of an oil sludge dumping would have been greeted by a most pathetic sight.

The mangrove trees are slowly dying and the creatures living in the forest, such as crabs and mudskippers, have disappeared.

In 2006, the ecology of the coast off Tanjung Piai was badly damaged by an oil tanker's illegal desludging. The livelihoods of some 70 fish breeders in Kukup also suffered as a consequence.

Malaysia Nature Society president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed has expressed grave convern over the intentional dumping of oil sludge into the water.

"We need continuous monitoring to counter the dumping," he said.

The Department of Environment checks for "fingerprints" of the culprit by taking oil and sludge samples from suspected vessels, which are analysed for a match. The problem is, there are hundreds of vessels navigating the busiest water channel in the world.

Every year, Johor National Parks Corporation conducts beach-cleaning, involving mainly volunteers, at Tanjung Piai.

Its director Suhairi Hashim said it was common to find bags of oil sludge dotting the shore of Tanjung Piai.

The evil deeds of some oil tanker captains have not only destroyed the country's natural heritage, but also exhausted its resources to clean up after them.

It is not an easy task to catch the culprits, especially those who commit the offence at night.

The authorities have to augment their aerial surveillance of the water off Tanjung Piai by collaborating with its Indonesian or even Singaporean counterparts.

It may be a good idea to carry out spot checks on oil tankers for documented evidence that they have sent their oil sludge for proper disposal.

Until and unless we deal firmly with the culprits, we will have to clean up after each and every one of them, every time.

Rotarians do their bit in mangrove reforestation
New Straits Times 3 Jul 12;

GREEN ACTIVITY: Sixty Rotarians, together with families and friends, planted mangrove saplings at the Tanjung Piai Johor National Park

JOHOR: IN the wake of natural disasters and an increased awareness of the ecological and economic role of mangrove forests, there is now a greater commitment to preserve these wetlands.

So it was that the Rotary Club of Johor Baru organised its Preserve Planet Earth event recently, the first in its Mangrove Reforestation Project.

In line with the Rotary International theme for 2012-2013, Peace Through Service, a group of 60 Rotarians, together with their families and friends, got together for a mangrove replanting exercise at the Tanjung Piai Johor National Park.

The park consists of 926ha of forest, of which 526ha are coastal mangroves made up of more than 20 true species of mangrove and nine associated species of mangrove.

It is also home to wetland wildlife such as mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, molluscs and crustaceans.

Declared a Ramsar site in 2003, the park cannot be disturbed ecologically.

The club members were joined by members from the Rotary clubs of Tebrau, Pontian and Kulai, and that of Bukit Timah and e-Club in Singapore.

There were also several members from the Johor Baru Senior Citizens Association among the guests.

Upon arrival, the group was welcomed by Park manager Khalid Zahrom, who gave an overview of the park by showing a video and briefing them on the replanting process.

"This is the biggest gathering of Rotarians in Pontian," said Rotary district governor elect Lee Kong Hwee as he welcomed everyone to his hometown of Pontian.

He fondly recalled his childhood days when he first saw bakau or mangrove timber ferried around town.

"Now we understand how valuable these mangroves are to our environment and how they should be harvested sustainably," said Lee.

Mangrove forests are ecosystems along sheltered coasts, and Malaysia's mangroves are more diverse than those in tropical Australia, Africa and the Americas.

Mangroves protect the coastline by acting as wave breaks and serve as natural barriers against torrential storms and tsunamis.

Their tough root systems not only trap debris, sediments, nutrients and toxic elements, but also provide breeding grounds for fish, crabs, prawns and other marine life essential for the fishing industry.

"Let us not take the wetlands for granted, for our very existence depends on them," said organising chairman Freddie Long, who emphasised that we need to help Nature by replanting depleting forests.

He also said we need to educate the younger generation and promote public awareness on the importance of mangrove ecosystems.

"I hope the corporate sector and other non-governmental organisations will include Tanjung Piai and mangrove conservation as part of their corporate social responsibility," he added.

One of the activities that is encouraged when replanting is the retrieval and proper disposal of debris from the mangrove forests.

On behalf of the club, Long thanked park staff for helping the Rotarians in the replanting activities and thanked the Forestry Department for providing the 500 saplings.

"This is the pilot event in our Mangrove Reforestation Project.

"It will be followed by more environment preservation programmes," said Rotary Club of Johor Baru president Ng Swee Poh, who described the replanting activities as an eye-opener for many.

The sentiment was echoed by in-coming president Francis Gopal.

"In the next phase, we hope to work with the Malaysia Nature Society in educational programmes with youths," said Gopal.

Shod in rubber boots, the group made their way down the boardwalk to the mangrove forest for their hands-on experience of replanting the saplings.

They followed the lead of park staff who demonstrated how the saplings should be planted in the soil that was made soft and muddy with the endless ebb and flow of the tides.

After the saplings were planted in the ground, the staff secured each sapling by tying it to a supporting stick.

A visit to the park is not complete without a trek to the southern-most tip of mainland Asia.

So after the replanting activities, the group made their way along a boardwalk built through the forest to this spot.

Along the way, they stopped to read plaques with interesting information on wetland wildlife and then extraordinary range of flora and fauna such as the piai plant, a wild fern from which the park derived its name.

At the close of the event, participants were rewarded with a certificate of achievement as a special memento of a day well-spent at the park.

Tanjung Piai Johor National Park is in Serkat in the Pontian district of Johor. It is about 92km from Johor Baru.

For group events and enquiries, call the Johor National Park Corporation at 07-223 7471, or 07-224 2525.

You can also fax 07-223 7472, or visit