John Tiong joins volunteers working hard to restore Kertih River to its former pristine condition
WE watch helplessly every time a volunteer steps down from the boat. His boots get stuck in the mud and someone has to help him, usually by pulling hard at the boots.
The bank is bare, except for some 0.6m-tall mangrove seedlings, swaying in the breeze.
This is the dire state of stretches of the Kertih riverbank in Terengganu where some 4,000 mangrove seedlings have been planted since the launch seven years ago of eco-Care, a mangrove rehabilitation and environmental education programme by Petronas Chemicals and Malaysian Nature Society (MNS).
The survival rate of the mangrove seedlings is only 33 per cent, and this necessitates continuous inspection, replanting and care as mangroves take more than 10 years to mature, explains Dr Abd Hapiz Abdullah, the president and chief executive officer of Petronas Chemicals, which sponsored the recent planting of 500 mangrove trees and release of 2,000 lates calcarifer fry fish into Kertih River.
The degradation of the river is partly due to the widening of the river by the local community who had hoped to increase the fish population. However, the opposite happened as the fish needed mangrove trees for protection and for their food sources. Contributory factors include effluents from the developments around the river area.
Hapiz hopes that with continuous effort, the ecosystem at Kertih River wil eventually return to its pristine condition, with clean water and a thriving fish population. He says that the rehabilitation of the ecosystem is in accordance with the criteria set up by MNS.
Rehabilitation work may take years, but it will increase the source of income for locals through better fishing, besides providing a healthier environment.
ecoCare epitomises the company’s commitment as a responsible corporate citizen to protect the environment through conservation and awareness efforts.
Petronas Chemicals’ commitment is echoed in the funding of the Environment Education Centre which is under construction beside Kertih River in Mukim Kertih.
The centre is also the first of its kind in the East Coast and will be ready in December. Five workers will help ecoCare volunteers and Petronas Chemicals employees set up School Nature Clubs in Terengganu.
The centre will be an avenue to promote awareness, understanding and care for nature among schoolchildren, teachers and the local community through education programmes relating to the Kertih River ecosystem that is unique to its coastal terrain and biodiversity.
MNS president Professor Dr Maketab Mohamed says that the river can be turned into a tourism destination because of its rich biodiversity, especially its three species of fireflies. One of the species, pteroptyx tener, make the trees appear like they’re flashing with lights, like decorated Christmas trees.
Maketab is especially impressed with the enthusiasm of ecoCare volunteers committee members who go out every fortnight to make sure the seedlings are doing well and replant when necessary. MNS has some 50 members in Terengganu.
Once a haven for fish
KEMAMAN Municipal Council chairman Mustafar Khalid used to live near the Kertih river when he was a child. He recollects fondly: “I remember I used to swim and bathe here when I was a teen. I also enjoyed looking for rotan, nipah and crabs here. It is so different now.”
Mustafar was at the recent ecoCare mangrove replanting and fish fry releasing event. Some 200 villagers — most of them from the ecoCare Volunteers Committee — joined in the event to raise awareness of the importance to protect Kertih River. The event included a children’s drawing contest, traditional dance performance and lucky draws.
Ismail Hassan, 68, remembers the river as a haven for fish such as siakap and gelama, as well as prawns.
“We used to go fishing in a boat. It was still quite fun until some 15 years ago,” said Ismail.
Tan Chui Chin, 71, used to live by the river as a child. “Part of our house stood over the river and we could see fish when we peeked through the holes between the wooden planks.”
The river, Tan says, had also served as an important mode of transport for those who worked in the rubber estates.
THE ecoCare Centre will stand on grounds as big as six football fields by Kertih River. It is inspired by traditional kampung houses and will be made of sustainable material and non-treated wood to give it a natural feel and to minimise impact on the environment.
The centre will stand on stilts 1.5m above ground and the auditorium will accommodate 200 people while eight dormitories will house 32.
The building is close to Kampung Gelugor, Kampung Tengah and Kampung Telaga Papan along Kertih River so that it is convenient for volunteers to learn about conservation.