Mallika Naguran represented Gaia Discovery in joining Rainforest World Music Festival musicians at mangrove planting within the ecologically-sensitive Kuching Wetland National Park that has a sad history.
This year was no different. Rising early in the morning, musicians and journalists – both local and international - boarded a bus for tree planting. We started from Damai Beach Resort to Semariang Jetty, and thereafter hopped on to a fast boat to Kuching Wetland National Park.
This was a day before the start of the Rainforest World Music Festival 2016 and a few musicians were pretty jet lagged. Until they hit the nature park where they came alive!
Exploring Kuching Wetland National Park
Covering an area of 6,610 hectares, the Kuching Wetland National Park sits on the estuarine reaches of the Sibu Laut and Salak rivers. Interconnecting the two major rivers that form the boundaries of the park are marine waterways and tidal creeks – all of these form the saline mangrove system.
As we went on this river ride, there were silences in between conversations as we beheld the calm and beauty of the waterway flanked by mangrove forests on both sides of the Kuching Wetland.
It is not surprising that one of Sarawak’s eco-tourism activities include touring up the Salak river to admire the mangroves and visit the Malay fishing island on Salak Island. As Semariang Jetty is only 15km away from Kuching town, tourists can opt to do this day river cruise after a visit to Semenggoh orang utan Sanctuary perhaps.
Upon reaching a faraway point of the Wetland, we were received by the very able team from the Forest Department Sarawak.
Wearing a cowboy hat to shield the sun’s glare and an infectious smile was Datu IK Pahon Anak Joyik, permanent secretary with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture of Sarawak and the deputy chairman of Sarawak Tourism Board. Also the guest of honour at the tree planting ceremony, Datu Joyik wasted no time in joining the enthusiastic group in planting as many mangrove saplings that morning.
He addressed the participants that comprised musicians from as far as Germany, Norway, Latvia and even Alaska. “Mangroves are important in coastal areas for protection against tsunamis,” said Datu Joyik.
Under the foresters’ guidance, the festival participants got their hands soiled by digging the earth and putting in healthy saplings of Rhizophora mucronata (locally known as Bakau Kurap). The area has other mangrove species such as Rhizophora apiculata (Bakau minyak) and Sonneratia sp. (Perepat).
As many as 300 mangrove trees were added to this Ramsar site*, thanks to Sindy and the other musicians at the tree planting event. Kuching Wetland zone encompassing 6,610 hectares of greenery was gazetted as a National Park in 2002. A Ramsar Site is a wetland site designated of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
However, even after being accorded this status that ought to have guaranteed it legal protection, Sarawak's Ramsar Site suffered degradation ironically due to an environmental mission.
Why replanting is needed at Kuching Wetland
Gaia Discovery understands that the selected site for the replanting within Kuching Wetland National Park was once filled with primary forests. Mature trees and forest habitats were destroyed when a flood management solution was put into action in 2009 to relieve the flooding problems experienced in Sarawak’s capital city Kuching after heavy downpours.
As many as 300 hectares of mangrove forest were affected by a massive floodwater diversion. The construction of a two kilometer channel to divert floodwaters from the upper catchment area of the Sarawak River to Salak River involved soil dumping activities. This was to widen up the Lemidin River, which is a tributary of Salak River. That way flood water from Kuching town could flow to the sea efficiently.
In spite of an environmental impact assessment done that gave the green flag to the construction of the flood bypass channel, it led to the burial of mangroves, sedimentation of waters and soil erosion of the rivers downstream.
According to executive forester Irmadian Ardi , the destruction of mangroves has severe impacts on the ecosystem of Sarawak Wetland. “Mangroves are very important in carbon cycles and as habitats for prawn and fish,” said Ardi. Among the wildlife found in this area are the proboscis monkeys, long tailed macaques, silver-leaf monkeys and birds such as white-bellied sea eagles and the rare lesser adjutant stork.
The proboscis monkey feeds on the mangrove leaf, which forms its staple diet. With less green coverage and fewer mangrove trees, the population of this species in this area of Sarawak stands at great risk**.
Ardi added that even the estuarine crocodiles depend on the mangrove ecosystem for their survival. It is understood that there are more than 500 mature crocodiles in the rivers of Kuching Wetland National Park, which we did not sight any, sadly, as we made our way back to the festival grounds.
Some heaved a sigh of relief. They’d rather see monkeys than crocs up close!
Reflecting on the event, renowned Sikh sacred music performer Dya Singh felt strongly about preserving the pristine nature of the forest. “I applaud Sarawak Tourism Board for having this tree planting event. Beyond this, I suggest cleaning up activity for next year's festival which is also the 20th. The plastics caught at mangrove roots is a sad sight to behold and the rubbish will pollute the water and the animals living in it, like the young crocodiles!"
“World music must highlight such issues and cleaning up is part of the world music culture," he added."
Text and Photos by Mallika Naguran
Read about the other initiatives by Sarawak Tourism Board to green the Rainforest World Music Festival
About the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF)
The Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) brings together renowned world music artistes from around the world including indigenous musicians from the heart of Borneo. Since 1997, the festival has entertained thousands with unique sounds, rhythm and dance from around the world.
Next year’s Rainforest World Music Festival will turn 20 and it will take place from Friday 14 July to Sunday 16 July. If you have not been there, well don’t miss it again. Make a note to explore Sarawak’s many beautiful eco-tourism destinations before or after the festival.
*What is a Ramsar Site?
A Ramsar Site is a wetland site designated of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. The Convention on Wetland, known as the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental environmental treaty established in 1971 by UNESCO, and coming into force in 1975. It provides for national action and international cooperation regarding the conservation of Wetland, and wise sustainable use of their resources. Ramsar identifies Wetland of international importance, especially those providing waterfowl habitat. In 2016 there are 2,231 Ramsar Sites, protecting 214,936,005 hectares (531,118,440 acres). 169 national governments are currently participating.
**Kuching Wetland Criteria as RAMSAR SITE (note Criterion 2)
Criterion 1: The site is a particularly good representative example of a natural coastal mangrove system, characteristic of the Borneo (Udvardy, 1975) biogeographical region.
Criterion 2: The site supports the Proboscis Monkey Nasalis larvatus - listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and ‘Endangered’ in the 2004 IUCN Red List, Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus - listed in the 2004 IUCN Red List as ‘Vulnerable’, and Griffith’s Silver Leaf Monkey/Langur Trachypithecus villosus (listed as “Data Deficient” in the 2004 IUCN Red List).
Criterion 4: The site is of special value as a nursery area for the Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus).
Criterion 8: The site is an important spawning and nursery ground for fish and prawn species.