Thursday, December 01, 2011

Pahang govt ‘killing’ Tasik Chini’s ecosystem

Aneesa Alphonsus
November 30, 2011

The legendary Tasik Chini’s more modern saga concerns ecological mismanagement and the near collapse of a delicate ecosystem.


Mystical Tasik Chini, which once spawned a legendary tale of a behemoth dragon or sea serpent called Naga Seri Gumum and the presence of the Sacred Lotus Nelumbo Nucifera is deeply polluted and the Pahang government is to be blamed.

Chini which is made up by a series of 12 lakes is not so much a lake but more of a naturally dammed tributary of the Pahang River.

Until recently the lake’s waters rose and fell with the seasons. During the rainy season the waters were unable to flow down the narrow Sungai Chini and so became backed up in a series of lakes.

This resulted in a unique ecosystem, dominated by the presence of the Sacred Lotus Nelumbo Nucifera which once covered the entire surface of the lake system.

During low waters the lotus seeds would germinate, their roots would take hold in the soft mud and the stunning blooms would appear on the water’s surface.

During the monsoonal floods, from October to January, the lotus would die but their fertilized new seeds would litter the lake bottom waiting the dry season to bloom again.

This exquisite cycle is however damned.

In 1995, the state government, in a bid to commercialize the area and make the lakes more appealing to visitors in the dry season, built a dam at the point where Sungai Chini entered the Pahang River. The structure stopped the free flow of water which was never able to recede again.

It wasn’t long before the Tasik Chini natural ecosystem started showing signs of stress.

Species going extinct

According to Azimudin Bahari, who is with the natural resources and environment ministry, studies have shown that the lake is polluted.

“The scientific studies by the Tasik Chini Research Centre in University Kebangsaan Malaysia clearly show several indicators of a more polluted freshwater lake. Lotus is increasingly extinct and tourist arrivals to Tasik Chini are declining.

“With the rapid decline of this lake, many species of freshwater fish have become extinct.

“The loss of fish not only deprives the communities of an important source of protein, but also has resulted in the loss of traditional fishing methods.”

Azimudin was speaking on the matter at the Care To Action: Multi-Pronged Strategy Needed To Reverse The Decline of Tasik Chini Workshop organised by Transparency International Malaysia (TMI) recently.

He said the suggested multi-pronged strategies however should be based on the principles of sustainability, good governance and recognition of the community particularly the Jakun Orang Asli tribe as the guardians of the locality.

He said the aspiration and cultural practices of the local community must be respected in the economic development of the Tasik Chini area.

There is hope

Despite the less than heartening prognosis, there might still hope for Tasik Chini.

But much of this hope hinges on whether the Pahang government will take the necessary measures to stop the sources of pollution and restore the free flow of water into the lake from Sungai Chini and Sungai Pahang.

Many are of the view that a collective effort between the authorities and the locals is needed to rehabilitate the lake.

The Orang Asli and other conscientious residents around the area have already made it their business to remove weeds called Ekor Kucing (Cat’s Tail) which are choking and absorbing the oxygen in the water.

Ailee Jane, a frequent visitor to Chini, opined that the authorities should remove the dam to allow the lake to heal itself naturally.

“The lake is dying a natural death because of the weir. It is polluted and there is so much of sedimentation.”

Urgent need to resuscitate lake

TMI secretary general Josie Fernandez said that the catchment area around Tasik Chini is being destroyed because of certain kinds of fertilizers which go into the water.

Residents, mostly the Orang Asli, use this water for cooking, bathing and drinking, thereby resulting in skin afflictions.

“Tin ore mining is yet another culprit,” she said, adding that “water from the waste flows into the lake which results in the loss of the fish which is a cheap source of protein.

“There is a story of an Orang Asli who went out early in the morning to catch some fish and only came back with one. He asked how was he going to share that one fish with the other seven families in his village.

“The thing about the Orang Asli at Chini is that they observe sustainable use of the natural resources.

“It’s never about huge profits where they are concerned, and definitely not about enterprise. They don’t do it to destroy the area.

“There really should be more accountability and Chini should be protected as an eco-tourism area. There is an urgent need to resuscitate what has been lost,” said Fernandez

Buy land back from Felda

Fernandez firmly believes that that all development in the catchment area should be stopped and if necessary, land should be bought back from Felda.

“In any development, there should be equity for all, for people and nature and a balance of the two must exist.

“This has been overlooked in previous policies pertaining to development and conservation of Chini.

“It’s our collective responsibly to resolve and go to the very source of the problem which lie in the way the catchment areas have been developed.

“This is not just an environmental issue but more of one concerning governance,” she said.

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