The Green Connection In Preserving Biodiversity

Posted on July 16, 2010. Filed under: Bio-diversity |

Bernama — What used to be a vacant swamp area five years ago is now the home to over 1,200 native species of Borneo’s vast biodiversity, from sharks and stingrays to non-poisonous snakes and frogs.

The swamp today is part of The Green Connection, an aquarium and science discovery centre that opened its doors to the public on May.

It is more than just your usual eco theme park run by profit oriented organisations, it is a conservation and education centre set up and operated by concerned conservationists and the Sabah Foundation.

Located about 2.5km from the city centre, this centre aims to promote environmental awareness by showcasing the land and marine biodiversity of Borneo and highlighting both the threats they face and the need to conserve them.

Visitors who come here will journey into the ecosystems that can be found in Borneo and explore the vast biodiversity contained within.

HOW IT STARTED

Prof Steve Oakley, a marine biologist for the last 25 years, is among the pioneers of the centre. Oakley, the technical director of the centre, who hails from England has been residing in Malaysia for the last 15 years, and has worked in 28 countries to date.

“Many years ago, a few concerned conservationists who worked for me at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s (Unimas) Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation carried out numerous studies on coral reef degradation in Sabah and Sarawak.

“Once we found out the source of problem, we started looking for the solution. And the solution is to create marine protected areas ….but that’s the government’s job like regulating and controlling destructive fishing, not really the role of an NGO,” he said in an interview with Bernama.

“So instead we adopted an approach similar to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), whereby we started rejuvenating coral reefs, rescuing sharks, stingrays and snakes…So the next logical step is to open a conservation facility like the one you see here today,” he added.

NO EASY FEAT

However, it was no easy feat as it took five years to create the place and raise money for the RM12 million project.

They were then lucky to meet a partner with similar goals, the Sabah Foundation (YS) that is now the major shareholder of Aquatica Aquarium and Discovery Centre Sdn Bhd, the company that owns The Green Connection.

“We went looking for partners with the same objectives to set up the facility. YS’ first objective is education, ours is also education, so we agree completely,” said Oakley.

Like the foundation’s core objective, they too want to help eliminate poverty by providing jobs at the centre to young Sabahans without qualifications from rural villages.

“Right now, we have about 80 Sabahans working with us. We even sent some of them to work in aquariums around the world to gain experience,” he added.

WHAT’S INTERESTING ABOUT THE GREEN CONNECTION

Going back to The Green Connection, Oakley said the aquarium there is different from the one in Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi or Sentosa (Singapore), as the primary focus of the three is entertainment and not conservation or education.

“We have only developed one hectare of land for the aquarium but we have the biggest coral reef tank in South East Asia, and the aquarium has the biggest windows in Malaysia.

“Aquaria KLCC has nice tunnels but we want big windows and big corridor so that we can talk to student groups for educational purposes. You can’t do that in a tunnel because of the cramped space. Our aquarium is not located within a building so our coral tanks do very well with the sunshine,” he explained.

Because their primary goal is raising awareness, The Green Connection is providing an affordable three-hour education package for school tours, at only RM5 per student. More information on the centre is available on the website at http://www.the-green-connection.com.

Interestingly, Oakley revealed that they are toying with the idea of setting up similar centres but in smaller scale in Tawau or Semporna in the near future.

“We may build others, we are keen in setting up similar centres in Tawau or Semporna, because lots of school children from that area have no access to the main centre here,” he added.

PRESERVING BIODIVERSITY

“So we do lots of charitable work for the animals,” Oakley said jokingly.

But how far the group has gone through to save animals, is no laughing matter.

The Green Connection has been buying fish, sharks and stingrays from fishermen to avoid the marine life ending up on the dinner table and tries to breed them in captivity.

He gave an example where the team swapped a wild boar for a green turtle, which was supposed to be served at a wedding reception.

“We were buying stingrays from this fisherman and we saw the green turtle in a cage, which the fishermen said it was reserved for a wedding feast.

“We thought its best for the green turtle to live here and reproduce, so we bought a wild boar and swapped it for the turtle…All we need to do is pay better money to prevent the animals from ending up in cooking pots,” said Oakley.

SNAKES AND SHARKS TOO NEED HELP

Oakley said he and his conservationist colleagues also treat snakes with injuries and diseases. They let the males go back into the forest but keep the females until they lay eggs.

“So we do many interesting things here, we breed sea snakes, monitor lizards, terrapins and sharks but we have yet to start with stingrays,” he said adding that their numbers are slowly growing.

Already, the facility is getting ready to house freshwater sharks and stingrays from Kinabatangan river – rarely seen these days due to their declining numbers.

“We have yet to see a Kinabatangan shark, and its stingrays are not in any aquarium in the world that we know of.

“We intend to buy them from fishermen who catch them alive …. The fishermen are happy to sell them to us, so its a win-win situation,” he added.

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