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Monday, September 29, 2014

Is mankind turning turtle? by Alan Rogers.

Hawksbill Turtle
STIMULATING articles in The Borneo Post by James Alin (April 17, 2014) and Rintos Mail (May 18, 2014) prompted me to write this.
In 2001, I landed ashore in Mayotte, in the Comoros group of islands, half way between Madagascar and Mozambique in the South-West Indian Ocean. Visiting the island’s volcanic crater-lake was a dream come true and then to be taken to a sandy beach for a swim in the warm sea was a delight.
My guide pointed to female turtle tracks through the sand and he reckoned that the turtles were nesting on the beach.
Quite suddenly and totally unexpectedly a mound of dry sand erupted as tens of little turtle hatchlings broke the surface and started to flip their way to the sea some 100 metres away.
Local children gently scooped them up in handfuls and ran to the sea to release these newcomers to their marine domain. An angry French tourist on the beach rushed over and asked whether I spoke English to converse with the children and tell them to leave nature to take its course!
Sadly she had not done her homework as these islanders spoke a form of French and had been helping the hatchlings in this manner for decades. The sheer delight on these children’s faces will remain with me forever.
It was frightening, however, to see from up to 20 metres offshore how many of these hatchlings were devoured by seabirds and further out to sea the shark fins were moving in a frenzy of feeding.
Against all natural hazards, sea turtles as a species have survived for more than a million years despite their chances from hatchling to maturity being less than one to 1,000. Even before they have a chance to hatch, monitor lizards often devour the eggs in the nests.
Loggerhead turtle hatchlings
I was told by a local conservationist that a turtle uses her front flippers to excavate dry sand, usually at night, to nest. Initially digging her body size pit, she then excavates deeper to create an egg chamber where she calmly lays her eggs.
Then facing the sea, she uses her rear flippers to fill in the egg chamber followed by front flippers scooping back the sand to hide her nest.
The incubation period of the eggs is up to two months. Researchers have found that warmer sand produces more female hatchlings and cooler sand more males. Very sadly, our very nature reduces the turtle population on our planet.
Turtles ingest, with disastrous consequences, plastic junk thrown overboard from ships and washed into the sea by our rivers.
Even if they manage to reach maturity, they can be accidentally caught in trawl or gill nets and by long-line fishing. As some turtle species enjoy crustaceans, they are trapped in crab and lobster pots.
Turtles are hunted for their highly prized meat and for ‘tortoise shell’ jewellery as well as for their perceived, but never proven, medicinal properties. Fresh turtle eggs are harvested and traded and this consumption is a threat to populations.
I have witnessed traders from across the border eagerly selling fresh turtle eggs from beneath their stalls to equally eager Malaysian purchasers at the Serikin Sunday morning market.
Sea turtles are divided into two families. The majority are the Cheloniidae, with shells covered by horny plates (scutes).
Only one species of the sea turtle family – the Dermochelyidae – has a leather-like skin, hence the Leatherback Turtle.
In Malaysia we can view, in various places, five of the seven types of sea turtle including the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), whose hatchlings I witnessed in the Comoros Islands.
The Green Turtle is totally herbivorous, feeding on seagrass beds and is the largest of the hard shelled turtles taking decades to reach sexual maturity. Female turtles of all species return annually to the same beach on which they were born to lay their eggs.
Olive Ridley Turtle
Each female Green Turtle lays clutches of around 125 eggs each time at two-week intervals during the laying season.
By comparison, the Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), exploited for its ‘tortoise shell’, lays three to five clutches of eggs with each cluster averaging 130 eggs. With its beak, it is initially a pelagic (shallow sea) fisher but as it develops, it dives deeper to feed off coral reef animals such as corals and sponges.
Confined mostly to subtropical and tropical areas, the Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the largest species nesting up to nine times each breeding season, laying a clutch of 100 eggs each time.
Wide ranging, it can withstand the relative coldness of temperate waters for it has a peculiar physiological capability, which allows it to maintain its body temperature up to 17 degrees Celsius above sea water temperature.
Last July, fishermen off the shores of South West Cornwall in the United Kingdow spotted these turtles. Leatherback turtles eat soft jellyfish almost exclusively.
Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta) have large heads and powerful jaws used for crushing mollusc shells, crabs and lobsters, fish and shrimp. Whilst mostly found in coastal waters they are essentially benthic (sea bottom) feeders and are quite unlike the other species of turtle whose habitats vary from shallower to deeper waters in their lifetimes.
The most abundant and yet the most solitary of sea turtles, feeding on algae, crabs, lobsters, molluscs, fish and shrimps, is the Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea).
It is most susceptible to long-line and gill nets as it is found in coastal bays and river estuaries. With the youngest maturity age of all sea turtles at 15 years, it nests twice each year laying a clutch of 100 eggs each time.
What of the future of our sea turtles? The World Wildlife Fund has declared the very threats to the existence of sea turtles:
  • Hunting of turtles for meat, shells and eggs for religious ceremonies, costume jewellery, so-called medicine, and food.
  • The killing of turtles – despite being protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) agreement.
  • Habitat loss through coastal development, damage of coral reefs and seagrass, through coastal land clearance and the dredging of river estuaries plus chemical run off from the land into river systems from agricultural practices.
  • Climatic change resulting in even warmer sea temperatures, more severe storms and a gradual rise in sea level all combining to destroy turtle nesting beaches.
The Indian Ocean-South East Asian Marine Turtle (www.ioseaturtles.org) MoU came into effect in 2003 with its management plan.
Last June its website frankly stated that: “Owing to other development issues in the region, some countries lack the resources for the successful implementation of the MoU.”
I believe that the Sabah Wildlife Department and Sarawak Forestry Corporation have worked towards protecting this remarkable species through their rangers’ guardianship of turtles, their nests and eggs.
Whilst our knowledge of the migratory paths of sea turtles is still in its infancy despite turtle tagging, recent research by students at Swansea University, UK, have tracked using global positioning system (GPS) the longest voyage of a Green Turtle of 2,485 miles in the Indian Ocean.
All of us must pull together to ensure that these extraordinary sea creatures survive. We must ensure that we are not their predators.
Leatherback Turtle
The Malaysian Nature Society

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/09/28/is-mankind-turning-turtle/#ixzz3EgMN3Uw0

Payeh Maga: Lawas’ Garden of Eden by Joanna Yap, reporters@theborneopost.com

The rare and endemic Bornean Black Oriole (Oriolus hosii).
— Photo credit: FDS/Ch’ien C Lee
HORNBILLS, leopards and bears, oh my! Just the thought of coming face to face with even one in the wild, is rare enough and will set anyone’s heart racing, but all three?
It’s not impossible if you are trekking through Payeh Maga near the Lun Bawang village of Kampung Long Tuyo in Lawas District.
Up until a few years ago, Payeh Maga was virtually unknown to the outside world, unheard of even to many Sarawakians.
Today, it is fast gaining international attention as a birdwatching hotspot, thanks largely to a chatty, little black bird – the Bornean Black Oriole (Oriolus hosii).
The presence of the Black Oriole at Payeh Maga first came to light following a preliminary survey in October 2010 by naturalist and wildlife photographer Ch’ien Lee.
The survey revealed a number of endemic bird species, including the Black Oriole which some researchers call Sarawak’s most mysterious bird because so little is known about it.
Subsequent expeditions, surveys and field trips have added to the known number of bird species in Payeh Maga. At last count, based on a survey conducted in February this year by Lee and Yeo Siew Teck, there are so far 183 bird species confirmed to be present, of which 27 are endemic.
These 27 species represent over 50 per cent of the known number of Bornean endemic species so far which include the Bare-headed Laughingthrush (Melanocichla calva), Whitehead’s Spiderhunter (Arachnothera juliae), Bornean Frogmouth (Batrachostamus mixtus) and Mountain Serpent-eagle (Spilornis kinabaluensis).
However, there is potential for this number to be much higher given how little is known so far about the area.
Lee and Yeo estimate the avifauna diversity to probably exceed over 250 species in total.
Thus, it’s little wonder that Payeh Maga is generating so much excitement amongst researchers and birdwatching enthusiasts.
Whitehead’s Spiderhunter (Arachnothera juliae).
— Photo credit: FDS / Ch’ien C Lee
Rich biodiversity
Payeh Maga has much to offer nature enthusiasts as thesundaypost found out during a trip there.
Our base camp for the two-day, one night visit was Camp 1 – a simple wooden shelter built by Forest Department of Sarawak (FDS), also known as Black Oriole camp because of frequent sightings of the said bird near the site.
The three-hour walk to base camp from the main road was not difficult as it followed a disused logging trail. Along the way, our porter and guide Dawat Barok from nearby Kampung Long Tuyo pointed out fresh markings of wild boar, deer and musang in the dirt path still muddy from rainfall during the night.
He said he had also seen sun bears and clouded leopards but at higher elevations.
While villagers from Long Tuyo regularly hunt wild boar and deer here, it is also used as a Gunung Doa (prayer mountain) by the local Christian community.
A small site near a massive natural rock formation about 15 minutes off the main trail has been set aside for this purpose. Each village has its own building and is responsible for maintaining it although there is also a two-storey pastor’s house and a large open-air hall which can easily seat 200 people.
However, the path to the prayer mountain is now overgrown due to lack of use. Dawat said the various villages only visited on special occasions about once a year or once every few years.
According to him, the name Payeh is derived from the surrounding environment (Payeh = kerangas and Maga = name of the area)
Having lived here his whole life, he is as familiar with the area and its residents as they come – as evidenced by his copious knowledge about local traditions and practices as well as impressive outdoor skills.
He managed to entice an obliging black oriole to come out into the open close enough for us to take a photo of, using a series of whistles to mimick its call during a short but playful exchange.
Unfortunately, the lack of a suitable zoom lens resulted in a photo of a tiny black blob on a branch. thesundaypost will just have to be satisfied with the memory of seeing the rare bird in person.
Dawat thinks one possible reason why so many species of birds can be found at Payeh Maga is that the Lun Bawangs traditionally don’t hunt them.
“It’s more difficult to hunt them as compared to bigger and more abundant prey like wild boar and deer. Birds also don’t have a lot of flesh, so they don’t make good eating,” he explained.
There have been recent sightings of endangered proboscis monkeys in the area – which is unusual as this species tend to prefer living in coastal areas and along rivers.
It remains to be confirmed whether their unexpected presence at Payeh Maga is due to factors such as loss of habitat but the increase in sightings as well as the sizeable number of monkeys suggest a possible breeding community.
It has also been said Payeh Maga is located along a migration trail of the Sumatran rhino but sightings are unconfirmed as yet.
During the three-hour trek from Camp 1 via a short-cut to the higher plateau where Camp 2 is located, we saw a number of hornbills flying in the distance, and also what appeared to be a raptor circling overhead, probably hunting for prey.
On the way back, we saw more hornbills and fleetingly glimpsed a pair of gangly wak-wak (gibbons) swinging flamboyantly through the trees like death-defying high-wire trapeze acrobats.
There were other species of birds present as well as evidenced by the many different calls we heard but spotting and correctly identifying them is a different challenge altogether for the inexperienced. I was satisfied enough with having seen the Black Oriole in person.
The picturesque surroundings, cool weather, enjoyable trekking and the magnificent sight of a 100-foot high waterfall just 15 minutes walk from Camp 2 managed to soothe any remaining disappointment.
Long Tuyo headman Salimun Baruk, pictured here with his wife Dayang Duguk, says the villagers are interested in setting up a homestay programme to tap into the interest in Payeh Maga as an ecotourism destination.
Fortuitous circumstances
Paradoxically, logging may have played a role in encouraging the high level of avian biodiversity at Payeh Maga, according to Heart of Borneo (HOB) programme coordinator and FDS executive forrester Michael Ngelai
The lower reaches of the area were heavily logged but the forests in the upper reaches, especially the steep inclines, are relatively intact.
The area was first logged about 30 years ago but due to the unpredictable weather and the method used, logging could not be carried out on as large a scale as conventional logging practices.
The cleared areas encouraged new forest growth and thus, became more attractive and conducive to supporting a higher number of bird species there, Michael opined.
On the other hand, it could also be argued that loss of habitat due to logging and large-scale land clearing for oil palm plantations and other agricultural purposes in surrounding areas may be forcing wildlife to seek refuge in Payeh Maga.
Whatever the reasons, it only underlines the need for further surveys and studies of the area to identify the factors supporting and/or threatening Payeh Maga so that a comprehensive and sustainable management and conservation programme can be effectively implemented.
Payeh Maga’s relatively easy accessibility is a big positive for researchers and birdwatchers as it is only two hours’ drive by gravel and dirt road from Lawas town, and a five-hour ride from Kota Kinabalu.
Unfortunately, it also means that as the area gains recognition for its unique biodiversity, it will also become more vulnerable to malicious activities such as poaching.
Already, the area is being frequented by intruders in search of wild gaharu (agarwood) which can fetch as much as several thousand ringgit per kg depending on quality.
Even a gaharu tree on the prayer mountain opposite the pastor’s house was not spared, and the pastor’s house itself was ransacked by the perpetrators.
The massive natural rock formation on Gunung Doa. — Photo courtesy of FDS
High hopes
With such rich biodiversity at their doorstep, the residents of Long Tuyo are naturally eager to harness the growing local and international attention to benefit the local community.
We are not afraid of hard work. We want to be a part of the development so that our young people can benefit. But we need help and support to realise our goals,” said headman Salimun Baruk.
In the past, we took part in a number of projects at the urging of various government agencies but they came to nothing despite our efforts. We were told to take up large loans but many did not dare. A few did so but now they are in a quandary as these projects failed and they are not able to repay the loans.
Many promises of better development and infrastructure have also fallen flat. We are forced to keep chasing and reminding the officials and representatives every time we see them.
For example, we have been asking for financial aid to improve the safety of the bridge we use everyday for the past five years and we are still waiting.”
Nevertheless, Salimun remains hopeful their pleas for better infrastructure and more support from various government agencies will finally be heard, especially in light of the villagers’ willingness to support initiatives to turn Payeh Maga into an ecotourism destination and Long Tuyo into a homestay destination.
If more people come, it will open up more job opportunities. But we also need to equip ourselves with the right infrastructure, facilities, skills and knowledge so that we can create a good impression on visitors so that they will return,” he said.
Salimun is grateful to the FDS for the assistance to their community over the years, including refurbishing their community hall and starting a gaharu cultivation programme. 
HOB’s Michael told thesundaypost it was important the local community benefit from any programmes being carried out so that they will feel they have an interest and a part to play in seeing the programmes succeed.
Among the initiatives in the pipeline are plans to train local residents as bird and nature guides as well as tap into local know-how and resources to support long-term scientific surveys and studies of the area by local universities.
Potentially, this could create more job opportunities for residents as homestay operators, porters, research assistants and guides, drivers, amongst others.
Michael agreed Payeh Maga has the makings to become an important resource for biodiversity research and environmental sciences, as well as a premier birdwatching destination in the region.
To this end, he is supportive of greater protection and conservation status for the area, which is currently within a timber concession.
A Mountain Serpent-eagle (Spilornis kinabaluensis) soaring high above Payeh Maga. — Photo credit: FDS / Ch’ien C. Lee
Paradoxically, logging may have played a role in encouraging the high level of avian biodiversity at Payeh Maga, according to Heart of Borneo (HOB) programme coordinator and FDS executive forrester Michael Ngelai
The lower reaches of the area were heavily logged but the forests in the upper reaches, especially the steep inclines, are relatively intact.
The area was first logged about 30 years ago but due to the unpredictable weather and the method used, logging could not be carried out on as large a scale as conventional logging practices.
The cleared areas encouraged new forest growth and thus, became more attractive and conducive to supporting a higher number of bird species there, Michael opined.
On the other hand, it could also be argued that loss of habitat due to logging and large-scale land clearing for oil palm plantations and other agricultural purposes in surrounding areas may be forcing wildlife to seek refuge in Payeh Maga.
Whatever the reasons, it only underlines the need for further surveys and studies of the area to identify the factors supporting and/or threatening Payeh Maga so that a comprehensive and sustainable management and conservation programme can be effectively implemented.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/09/28/payeh-maga-lawas-garden-of-eden/#ixzz3EgL59w6H

Niah Caves by Tom McLaughlin.

aking sense of its occupation by early peoples
Burials began in Niah Cave about 6,000 years ago. — Photos by Mary Margaret
WE begin with a new perspective and new dating of the Niah Cave complex. Imagine, if you will, the caves facing an arm of the seaside that worked its way inward 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. This time period is known as the Holocene and dates from 11,000 years ago to the present. It is the end of the last glacier advance, or the ice age. Sediment cores outside the cave confirm this.
The peoples of the region were going through a change in that they had started to bury their dead. Death was a major tragedy for them and brought about many hardships. The demise also negotiated the crossover between the natural and supernatural world. The burials began in Niah about 6,000 years ago, during the early Holocene period.
The people of the area had two sources of food. The first was the closed tropical rainforest, which provided bearded pigs and monkeys. There were occasional cattle, tapir and deer. The second source was brackish seawater. The riverine-estuary environment brought turtles and clams. Edible plants such as yams, taro and sedges were also present and vines probably helped the people make baskets. There was also evidence of basic stone working.
One of the major problems in excavating the remains and determining the dates was that Tom Harrison and his wife Barbra attempted to crudely dig up the graves and date them. They scattered the bones and left the place in a mess. Scientists are now trying to piece together what is left. (see ‘The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrison and his Remarkable Life’ by Judith Heinmann.)
One of these people is Dr Lindsay Lloyd-Smith, who is attempting to make some sense out of the erroneous conclusions offered by the Harrison clan. She offers a reclassification and re-dating of the scene.
There are three distinct burial clusters in Niah Caves. The first, and oldest, was located in the back of the west cave, while the second one was several metres south at the cave entrance. The most common type of interment was the body in the flexed position.
The flexed position was where the body was placed in the grave with its arm and legs bent. The positions were that the “arms were tightly bent at the elbows with the forearms bent upwards”. A second category is where the arms were only loosely flexed.
The second type is the seated burials. Here, the legs are splayed forward while the upper body part was laid or fell forward. There are four graves that match this description.
The third type should be called mutilation. All those missing a head or other parts or cremated before burial fall into this category.
The one thing that is known is that the burials were not continuous. The graveyard was used over short periods of time with long intervals between burials. This occurred over several centuries.
The flexed burial system was used throughout Southeast Asia during the time period of the early Holocene. In Kalimantan, at the site of the Kimanis people, two flexed graves have been discovered. They have been found at the upper reaches of the Birang River. Other flexed burial sites have been reported in Gua Tengorak, also in Kalimantan.
The Gunung Sewa Mountains of East Java also have burials of flexed remains as do the Ille Cave on Palawan in the eastern Philippines. The Da But coastal communities of North Vietnam and the Aru Island all date during the same time period as those in Niah Caves. Much later, they would be found in the interior (not coastal) of the Malay peninsula.
The research by Lloyd-Smith states that this was the time period where culturally, the people began to bury their dead. She has connected the burial sites at Niah with the sites in Kalimatan, Java, Vietnam and later Peninsular Malaysia. She has reorganised Harrison’s work and prepared a different way to view the data.
(Adapted from ‘Early Holocene Burial Practice at Niah Cave, Sarawak’ by  Lindsay Lloyd-Smith; Institute for East Asian Studies, Sogang University, Seoul, South Korea.)
Visitors are seen at a rest area in the Niah Cave complex.
The Malaysian Nature Society

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/09/21/niah-caves/#ixzz3EgKNMA74

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sarawak rivers drying up by Rintos Mail, reporters@theborneopost.com.

Low river level in the upper Sarawak Kiri River during dry spell.
OVER the last couple of weeks, we had seen quite a bit of rain, and in some instances, very heavy downpours.
Showers have provided much needed relief for thousands of people who experienced acute water shortage between June and July.
However, this may just be a temporary relief as water scarcity will continue to stalk the state and the country as a whole.
Mankind’s insatiable thirst for water and deforestation activities seems to have pushed our most precious natural resource – water – to the brink.
Bodies of water, stressed by human consumption and forest clearing, are disappearing quicker than imagined.
Many of the world’s largest rivers, including the Yangtze, the Ganges and the Salween in Asia, the Danube in Europe and the Rio Grande in North America have become victimised by water demand and development – that they are in the process of drying up.
Rivers in Sarawak are not spared.
There are no studies to show the levels of rivers in Sarawak have fallen but a series of newspaper reports between June and early August appeared to have indicated so.
Here are some of the reports:
  • Baram is reeling from the effects of El Nino with the Baram River dropping to dangerously low level and becoming precarious to expressboats plying between Marudi and Long Lama. Taps from gravity-feed system running dry as streams dry up.
  • The dry season caused by the El Nino phenomenon has hit Lubok Antu. Water levels in rivers are low and waterfalls have literally “dried up.” Even the water level at the Batang Ai hydro dam has dropped.
  • More than 10,000 people in Saratok are experiencing acute water supply problem brought about by the dry spell and hot weather.The Nanga Lichok Water Treatment Plant, which supplies most of the clean water to the people in the Saratok, has dried up.
  • Consumers under the jurisdiction of the Public Works Department (JKR) Kuching and Samarahan in Bau, Asajaya and Puncak Borneo, will only receive water supply from the Kuching Water Board (KWB) between 8pm and 5am effective Aug 31.
  • This is because the El Nino weather phenomenon has caused very low river flow in water catchment areas of Sungai Sarawak Kiri, which is the main raw water source for KWB.
  • The prolonged dry weather in Simunjan has caused the raw water source at Lepong Dam to be depleted and the water supply from Simunjan WTP has, therefore, been considerably reduced. The water woes, as reported in these areas, have been caused by the rivers drying up. There are  many more rivers and water bodies at risk in the state.
Rivers are still a source of water supply in the rural areas.
What are the causes?
Three main factors lead to this phenomenon, according to Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Datuk Seri Dr James Dawos.
They are El Nino, clearing of forest in the water catchment areas and impact of climate change.
Dawos said the absence of rain due to El Nino had affected the water level in most rivers in Malaysia, including Sarawak.
“We are now in El Nino which may cause extensive drought and absence of rains.
“When there is no rain, of course river level will reduce or even dry up,” he added.
El Nino events are reported to be occurring irregularly – about every two to seven years and may last from 12 to 18 months.
The event begins with the weakening of the prevailing winds in the Pacific and a shift in rainfall patterns. It is associated with extreme weather – floods and drought – in countries surrounding the Pacific and much further afield.
During the period, prolonged dry periods may occur in Southern Africa, Northern Australia and Southeast Asia – which means Sarawak too is affected.
According to reports, the current increase in temperature and drought conditions could persist through to 2015.
Dawos, who is former State Environment Advisor, said like other parts of the world, the availability and quality of water in Sarawak are also threatened more and more by the clearing of forests in the water catchment areas.
He noted that forested catchments supply a high proportion of water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and ecological needs in both upstream and downstream areas.
He said under any hydrological and ecological circumstance, forests are the best land cover to maximise water yields, regulate sustainable flows and ensure high water quality.
“Conserving forest cover in upstream watersheds is deemed most effective in enhancing water availability not just for domestic but also agriculture and industrial uses.”
Dawos explained that deforestation disturbed the water cycle and trees were an important part of maintaining the state’s water resources.
By drawing up groundwater through their roots, then releasing it into the atmosphere through their foliage, trees play a significant role in the hydrologic cycle.
In addition, their roots also help to create large conduits in the soil which help water to infiltrate through the ground area; their trunks and stems help to stop surface runoff which contributes to erosion, and a large proportion of precipitation is intercepted by their leaf canopies and then re-evaporated back into the atmosphere.
Furthermore, the leaf litters and other organic residues from trees help provide a ground covering and increase the soil’s capacity to store water.
Trees literally control the amount of water available in the atmosphere, the soil or even in the groundwater.
Dawos, a trained specialist in forestry and environmental science, said areas that had been cleared of trees could not retain as much moisture in the ground and atmosphere and this very often led to a drier climate.
He added that forests transport large quantities of water into the atmosphere through plant transpiration, hence replenishing the clouds and instigating rain that maintains the forests.
Dawos said clearing forests also meant insufficient trees to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen and water vapour, which eventually led to global warming and climate change.
He noted that huge amounts of carbon dioxide were released into the environment, part of which came from Malaysia, due to industrial activities.
He said global warming and climate change posed a threat to water supply.
“Climate change is making hot days hotter, rainfall and flooding heavier and droughts more severe.
“Longer hot and dry periods will eventually result in low water level or rivers drying up,” he added.
Naturally, the amount of water flowing through a river is governed by two main sources – the source from which it takes its headwater and the level of precipitation in the area around it.
While a river that is constantly fed by large bodies of water may flow continuously, the levels of other rivers may lower considerably, or even dry up completely, during periods of low precipitation.
Some rivers can also dry up if objects such as dams are constructed to divert their flows in a different direction.
In some areas, rivers do not flow at all unless heavy rains have fallen, providing them with a temporary water source.
Dawos disagrees with suggestions that construction of dams are killing some of the rivers in the state.
He said dams actually helped control the flow of water and flood.
“When there is a dam, the government has to gazette the water catchment areas to ensure sustainable supply.”
To prevent rivers drying up, Dawos pointed out that water catchment areas should remain strictly untouchable while forest clearing should be reduced to prevent global warming and climate change.
A key challenge, faced by the state authorities now and in the near future, is to maximise the wide range of multi-sectoral forest benefits without detriment to water resources and ecosystem function.
To address this challenge, there is an urgent need for a better understanding of the interactions between forests or trees and water, for awareness raising and capacity building in forest hydrology, and for embedding this knowledge and the research findings in policies.
Similarly, there is a need to develop institutional mechanisms to enhance synergies in dealing with issues related to forests and water as well as to implement and enforce action programmes at state levels.
Everyone agrees water is one of the most important resources obtained from forests. It is vital for all living things. Careful forest management is necessary to ensure that our present and future water needs can be met.
Forests determine the quantity, rate and quality of water which flows into streams and hence into dams or reservoir.
A slightly higher level in Sungei Sarawak Kiri after showers.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/09/07/sarawak-rivers-drying-up/#ixzz3Cax7Mmd3

Pitcher plants by Tom McLaughlin.

Once the pitcher plant opens, the original bacteria is replaced by the micro-organisms introduced by the prey that fall in. — Photos by Mary Margaret
PITCHER plants (Nepenthaceae) have been well covered in these pages.
Books have been written about them, the idea that they serve as receptacles for urine from rodents has been discussed and discarded, and hundreds if not thousands of pictures have been taken.
We know the plants have sides that create a slippery surface leading insects to tumble down into the liquid.
Insects are attracted by the sugary nectar that is produced by glands at the edge of the pitchers (peristome).
Ultraviolet and visible light waves of the colour of the pitcher plants also attract insects.
If insects slip in, they cannot escape as the slippery waxy zone is between the zone of attraction and the digestive zone.
However, aerial pitcher plants, which prey primarily on flying insects, often lack a waxy zone.
It has been suggested that the shape of the pitcher prevents the escape of the prey.
When they tumble in, they drown and are digested by the acidic detergent-like digestive fluids.
Our next problem is to find out what micro-organisms live in the liquid that drowns the insects.
The fluid is highly acidic and could create a micro-environment for certain bacteria.
It would, after all, be considered to be an extreme habitat.
Filter feeding mosquito larvae are also able to survive in this acidic environment.
The first studies began with Dr JS Hepburn in 1918. He performed experiments on unopened, developing, and opened pitchers that had not caught any prey and regular open insect catching plants.
All samples were incubated in sterile conditions at 37 degrees Centigrade.
He reported no bacterial growth for the unopened plants and growth for all the others.
He concluded that the liquid was sterile and did not have any contact with the outside world until the pitchers were partially or fully open, allowing bacteria to enter.
The results were retested in 1993, 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and they concluded that indeed the unopened liquid part of the plant is sterile and holds no micro-organisms.
However, all of these experiments were conducted in a temperate zone under strict laboratory conditions and did not reflect the habitat of the tropical rainforest in the wild.
The one that did achieve growth in 1998 thought it was a mistake.
For this experiment, three separate pitcher plants were selected in Selangor. Of these three, five separate plants were haphazardly selected.
For the opened pitcher plants, the liquid was poured into a sterile tube.
For the unopened ones, a sterile small needle was inserted in the base of the plant and the liquid was extracted and placed into a sterile tube. All samples were transported on ice to the lab.
After DNA analysis, the researchers did find bacteria growing in the unopened plants – an astounding discovery.
So why did the rest of the researchers get it so wrong? Possibly specialised bacteria, found only in the tropics, made themselves available to the unopened plant.
A second reason could be the movement of plants  from the tropical to the temperate zone could have altered the flora and fauna of the unopened plant.
A third reason is the greenhouses in temperate zones are kept to minimise bacterial growth.
The next question is how does bacteria get into the sealed unopened pitcher? It is speculated by the authors that there are microscopic openings between the lid and the chamber during development.
It is also surmised that secreatory tissues (the tissues that secrete the fluid) that line the chamber could possibly play a role.
The authors concede that future studies are required to test the two hypotheses.
The authors further proposed that there are two types of bacteria. One type is a native type that colonises the plant while still in development.
The second type involves those that are carried on the bodies of the arthropods that land in the chamber and are digested.
The first type is possibly transferred from one developing plant to another.
This study has produced three major findings.
First , the pitcher plants do have microorganisms living in the unopened fluid of the plant.
Secondly, once the plant opens, the original bacteria is replaced by the micro-organisms introduced by the critters that fall in for digestion.
And finally, bacterial communities vary by the particular species of the plant.
Adapted from ‘Bacterial communities associated with the pitcher fluids of three Nepenthes (Nepenthaceae) pitcher plant species growing in the wild’ by Lee Yiung Chou, Charles M Clarke, and Gary A Dykes; Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014.
Aerial pitcher plants prey primarily on flying insects.
The Malaysian Nature Society

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/09/07/pitcher-plants/#ixzz3CaxLvZaa