Ecosystem restoration journey
GEC aims to promote integrated management of biodiversity and water resources
By FATIHAH MANAF
World Environment Day is celebrated on June 5 every year as a United Nations’ initiative to encourage worldwide awareness and action to protect the environment.
In conjunction with the celebration, Global Environment Centre (GEC) organised a web forum titled ‘GEC’s Ecosystem Restoration Journey’ moderated by the director of the organisation, Faizal Parish.
GEC is an NGO that aims to promote the integrated management of biodiversity and water resources. It also encourages the protection and sustainable use of forests and wetlands and enhances awareness and partnerships capacity between organisations.
Faizal, an environmentalist with more than 30 years of experience, shared there were four programmes under GEC — River Care (RCP), Forest and Coastal (FCP), Peatland (PP) and Outreach and Partnership (OPP).
The web forum featured four experienced panellists: Dr K. Kalithasan (Manager of RCP), Serena Lew (Manager of PP), Nagarajan Rengasamy (Manager of FCP) and Adelaine Tan (Senior Coordinator of OPP).
The speakers emphasised the importance of local engagement and ownership.
Art of smart partnership for sustainable river management
Kalithasan said GEC had developed various approaches for innovative partnership under RCP. One of the practical approaches was Civic Science approach, which comprises awareness, knowledge, and skills that will eventually lead to action. This approach sought to enable local efforts, reconnect people to nature, and instil local ownership.
Kalithasan said that it was important for these partners and stakeholders to be put together under the name of ‘Human’.
He argued: “People often discuss who has bigger roles to play, but all of them come together under the category of human beings.”
He then shared seven mechanisms in GEC’s art of smart partnership, which includes empowerment, action, and sharing and recognition.
“By empowerment, it includes providing stakeholders with skills, knowledge, training and the right tools. The following key thing is the action.
“It doesn’t matter how big or small you think your contribution is. You just have to do it,” said Kalithasan, who also shared that it was important for these actions or efforts to be shared and recognised locally.
He then explained 15 components in which he highlighted river ownership, conservation, rehabilitation, pollution reduction, and monitoring.
Restoring and managing peatland ecosystems
Peatlands in Malaysia were commonly known as peat swamp forests. Serena stated that there were many benefits of peatland, such as mitigating climate change and regulating carbon and water source.
“Peatlands are the largest natural carbon store. However, when they are burning, it becomes a huge disaster as they release a huge amount of carbon,” Serena argued.
This carbon release would damage the peat ecosystem, cultivated land, wildlife habitat and affect people’s health.
Serena shared that GEC’s approach for peatland management and restoration was initially limited to replanting. However, this approach was carried out on a small scale and showed limited success. The NGO then opted for 4R approach – rewetting, reduction of fire risk, revegetation and revitalisation.
She explained that the rewetting was done by blocking canals or drainage whilst reducing fire risk involved stakeholder engagement and zero burning agriculture.
She also clarified about revegetation which was done through local community engagement, limited replanting and natural regeneration. As for revitalisation, she said the approach was made by enhancing the socio-economy of local communities and other stakeholders linked to the rehabilitated peatlands.
This approach had shown success as there’s no fire outbreak reported in Pahang peatland since 2019.
Community-based mangrove restoration and sustainable livelihood programme
Nagarajan explained that FCP focused on the sustainability of the future environment and the conservation, protection and sustainability of biodiversity in Malaysia’s forest and coastal ecosystem.
The programme manager expressed his sadness that most environmental awareness was often linked to natural disasters.
Using the tsunami as an example, he stated that it was only after the incident that people realised the importance of protecting the coastline.
He said that coastline protection, which had to do with the mangrove rehabilitation, lacked local participation.
Nagarajan stated: “Environmental problems, especially mangroves problem are local problems.”
Nagarajan shared that about 1,348 km of Malaysia’s coastline was found to be eroding. With this issue in mind, GEC then established many community-based programmes related to the various ecosystems. Under the mangrove programme, five Community Based Organisation (CBO) groups were found.
“We identify two key strategies which would help to sustain the community’s long term active participation,” said Nagarajan.
He explained that the strategies were establishing and promoting the community-based forest management programme and the sustainable livelihood programme.
Through the community groups, GEC managed to rehabilitate more than 120 hectares of degraded mangrove areas.
Engaging the public and corporate sector in GEC’s conservation work
Adelaine highlighted that the focus of OPP was to establish partnerships with other like-minded organisations and sectors to address environmental issues. She said GEC worked on enhancing awareness and understanding through information dissemination.
“Some of the activities that we do under this programme include capacity building, environmental education and information exchange,” shared the senior coordinator of the programme.
She then explained that GEC also had volunteer programmes such as tree planting and river rehabilitation open to the public, students and individuals.
“GEC also carry out campaigns and advocacy work on current environmental issues like ‘Selamatkan Hutan Simpan Kuala Langat Utara’ campaign and ‘Save Shah Alam’s Last Remaining Lowland Forest’ campaign.”
The panellist shared that GEC also produced awareness and training materials that were available on their website. The organisation also conducted exhibitions and training to spread environmental awareness.
“GEC was a beneficiary of some of the green campaigns by corporates and generous individuals,” said Adelaine.
She shared some of GEC’s CSR programmes, which were done with various corporates such as HSBC and PETRONAS.
She also stated the programmes had improved the environment, assisted local communities, and established long-term partnerships.
Before ending her talk, Adelaine said individuals interested in their programmes could sign up as volunteers and follow GEC social media.
During the media session, the organisation director shared that the first Movement Control Order (MCO) which was announced in March last year, managed to make GEC worried about their restoration plan.
However, the local communities had proven their remarkable capabilities by taking ownership and continuing the restoration journey on a smaller scale. The people also carried out the activities by following SOPs prepared by GEC.