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February 2, 2011

D’Cruz: Sarawak has many areas that can be designated as Ramsar sites

By ZORA CHAN
zora@thestar.com.my

SARAWAK has several potential sites to be designated as Ramsar sites including man-made structures like Bakun hydro-electric dam.

Wetlands designated as internationally important under the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, 1971) are commonly known as Ramsar sites.

Ramsar Convention vice chairman of scientific and technical review panel Rebecca D’Cruz said people often forgot that artificial wetlands also qualify as Ramsar sites.

Concrete building: Bakun Dam is a potential site for Ramsar.

“Bakun dam is qualified if the state government wants to designate it as a Ramsar site because the convention is about proper management and wise use of a site for the environment and people. There are many dams in the world that are Ramsar sites,” she said.

Such a recognition would give the dam brownie points and put it on the world map, she said in a recent interview.

D’Cruz, however, cautioned that a site must be meticulously picked so that any future development would not cause adverse impact on the site.

“A site is designated according to the importance and functions of the wetlands and therefore, authorities concerned must select a site properly to avoid mismanagement that would cause one to lose that recognition and embarrassment,” she said.

Sarawak’s first Ramsar site and the fifth in the country, the Kuching Wetlands National Park, was designated in 2005 but today faced challenges as development like housing estates were being built close to the park’s boundary, she said.

She added that the on-going flood mitigation project would also cause environmental stress to the park.

D’Cruz said areas like Bako-Buntal Bay deserved to be designated as a Ramsar site for its birds, dolphins, crocodiles, proboscis monkeys and mangrove forests.

“The importance of Bako-Buntal Bay is beyond question,” she pointed out.

Other important potential areas were Maludam National Park, Loagan Bunut National Park, waters off Lawas where dugongs were spotted and Rajang River, she added.

Sarawak’s rivers were pivotal to the people who depended on them for daily use, transportation and food and the overall ecology and therefore, deserved to be better conserved for posterity, she said.

She explained that it would be difficult and impractical, for example to gazette the whole Rajang River as a Ramsar site as the stretch along Sibu town was heavily populated.

“But what the authorities can do is to designate Rajang’s catchment area. The headwaters of the Rajang River – the source of the river – should be protected. The Government needs to make smart decisions,” she said.

D’Cruz said Malaysia’s sixth Ramsar site, the Lower Kinabatangan Segama Wetlands, was gazetted in 2008 and it covered 79,000ha featuring natural coastal mangrove, brackish and peat swamp forest systems.

“The Lower Kinabatangan-Segama Wetlands is the largest in the country, larger than the other five (Kuching Wetlands National Park; Pulau Kukup, Sungai Pulai and Tanjung Piai in Johor; and Tasik Bera in Pahang) put together.”

D’Cruz said every Feb 2 was observed as World Wetlands Day to mark the date of the signing of the convention in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971.

This year’s celebration would be a big event as the convention is celebrating its 40th anniversary, she said.

The theme of the celebration is ‘Forest For Water and Wetlands’ which is in line with the UN International Year of Forests. It hopes to raise public awareness on the important role and co-relation between forests (wet and dry) and wetlands.

Mankind cannot manage without forests, whether terrestrial forests or forested wetlands, given the critical roles that they play in our lives – for water, for food, for livelihoods, for recreation and much more.

 

 

  
 
 
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