Say no to development but yes to Kuala Selangor Nature Park conservation

This article has been published by the New Straits Times on 12 August 2022.

ONE of the key fundamental ecological aspects of nature that has often been neglected with regard to land management and development is habitat connectivity.

The recent announcement and proposal by the Selangor state government to convert and develop the secondary forest section of the Kuala Selangor Nature Park is of critical environmental concern.

It is a classic example and evidence of plain neglect and the lack of understanding on the importance of maintaining the connectivity of habitats and ecosystems.

The development would not only be detrimental to the adjacent mangrove area and the organisms dependent of the whole coastal complex, but it would pose a certain degree of danger and risks to the social-ecological system particularly on the communities of Kuala Selangor.

Natural habitats and ecosystems are often perceived and managed as separate entities and they often fall in the cracks of piecemeal laws, policies and jurisdictions, but mangroves as an ecosystem juxtaposed in between land and sea are heavily reliant on the state and the health of their adjacent and connecting habitats and ecosystems.

Seagrasses and coral reefs growing and forming lavishly in the subtidal area next to mangroves would provide a range of benefits to ensure the stability of the ecosystem and protection from oceanic hazards.

While from the opposite direction, the buffer and sufficient supply of healthy freshwater and nutrients from land and through rivers and precipitation would determine the health and vigour of mangroves.

Beach forest, coastal forest, inland forest and riparian zones along the estuaries and coastlines also provide important lifelines to ensure the sustainability of mangroves. They act as an important transition zone that connects the terrestrial environment with mangroves and the marine environment.

These habitats provide an important space for a wide variety of wildlife and organisms to dwell and roam and to source for specific needs for their survival.

It is extremely important to understand that mangroves are dynamic and, at the same time, fragile. The ecosystem is constantly influenced by the ever-changing rhythm and patterns of the tides and they are susceptible to various environmental factors and changes.

In addition to that, they must now cope with the compounding effects of global warming and the rising sea levels. Increasing sea levels would force the whole intertidal zone to move landward, and mangroves would have to adjust and adapt to this elevation change.

This process can only be successful with the availability of sufficient space on the terrestrial zone. Simply put, for mangroves to play that buffering role in protecting our coastlines and estuaries, they themselves would require sufficient buffer area on land to allow for smooth transitions and for natural dynamic processes to take place.

The construction of man-made physical structures within this buffer area would cause a dramatic effect on the coastlines. Erosion, for one, is a visible impact further triggered by the construction of physical structures including buildings and seawalls.

Continuous waves hitting these walls would scour coastal sediment and soil, eroding not just the land, but also all plants and organisms growing and living in the area. This is made worse with the consistent increase of sea levels, causing the area to be permanently flooded, in which it will no longer be suitable for mangroves to grow.

Protecting mangroves and their connecting habitats would ensure the protection of biodiversity, natural properties and their ecological linkages. This will allow for important processes like pollination, flood mitigation and regulation of fundamental environmental cycles like water, carbon and other greenhouse gases to take place.

Maintaining habitat connectivity is particularly important to ensure no further fragmentation as well as to allow for smooth and uninterrupted movement.

The view of the neighbouring mangrove forest stretch in the photographs clearly demonstrate how physical development behind and within mangrove forests would put pressure on the habitat, and to cause it to continue to shrink and to be further exposed and affected by various disturbances like erosion, pollution and other extreme weather events.

A strict ultimatum must be enforced to refrain from further exploitation of the remaining natural forests, wetlands, habitats and ecosystems within the state, and it is especially crucial to sustain this particular environmentally sensitive coastal forested area of Kuala Selangor for all the roles and services they collectively play and provide.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the state government to decide on the fate of these precious habitats and ecosystems, and it is also the responsibility of the state to ensure the sustainability and the wellbeing of the town and the communities.

We can only hope and pray for a smarter, wiser and more considerate decision to be made now for a better tomorrow.