HUMAN IMPACT ON PEAT-SWAMP FORESTS IN MALAYSIA AND INDONESIA
1 Tanuwidjaja, Gunawan
1 MSc. Environmental Management (NUS), S.T. (ITB)
Urban Planner & Researcher,
Green Impact Indonesia
Integrated Urban, Drainage and Environmental Planning and Design
Peat swamp forest can be defined as a forest that has peat soil accumulation in the floor and usually is located in the lowlands. The peat soil is actually made of 65% organic matter and has reddish-brown colour.i
Globally Peat swamp can be found in South East Asia, Central and South America, Africaii which are tropical forests; and Russia, Ireland, Scotland, Germany and Scandinavia which are temperate forests.iii Further we are going to explore more on the South East Asia peat swamp forest, which are mostly located in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Further the characteristics of peat swamp forests will be described in a-biotic, which are: climate, soil and water; and biotic component which are: flora, fauna and micro-organism.
The tropical forests have intensive rainfall, warm annual temperature, and high humidity.iv Intensity of rainfall in South East Asia is 200 mm/month during wet season and 100 mm/month during dry season. The rainfall pattern in the area further explained in Figure 1-1.vThis shows that peat swamp forest in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Malaysia have the wettest climate since receiving 12 month of rain.
Microclimate is other component found in dense peat swamp forest. This was proven in Semengo arboretum, Kuching, Serawak. The research proved that the temperature in forest lower part is also lower because of the forest canopy protection. The result will be presented in Figure 1-2.viii
The peat is made from the decayed wood, leave, or body of animal.ix The peat will loss 77-94% of the biomass when burned.x The form of peat also varies from solid, fibrous form to soft crust.xi Peat is also highly acidic (pH from 3.85 to 4.15).xii
Peat swamp forests are important to minimize the effects of global warming, as a major carbon sink.xiii Actually this become more urgent since the accumulation of carbon dioxide is estimated by IPCC to reach 31 percent higher than it was 250 years ago.xiv
The peat deposit also can be categorised in two forms, which are: ombrogenous peat and topogeneous peat. The ombrogenous peat is the common one and is above the surrounding land. The plants live in it get nutrient from the peat soil and directly from the rain only. Also no nutrient enters the peat from the soil layer below or from the rain water. This type is usually found behind the mangroves with 20 m depth of deposit.
The topogenous peat is the less common one and is formed in the topographic depression. The plants in this kind of peat obtain nutrients from mineral subsoil, river water, plants remain and rain. Topogenous peat is usually found behind coastal sand ridge and in mountain depressions. The peat is usually found in a relative thin layer about 4 m.xvii
Water flowing out of the peat swamp forest appears tea-coloured or opaque-black. It is also found very acidic (pH 3.45) because of high humic acids. The humic acids transform inorganic ions into larger molecules which can not be taken up by plants. Lastly it also contains lower inorganic ions and low dissolved oxygen.xviii
The water table in the peat swamp is actually high. In Brunei it is found that the water table is almost 10 cm below the surface in April.xix This actually shows that peat swamps carry important functions such as water storage, flood control and fisheries, acquisition, storage and recycling of chemical elements.xx
The vegetation in the peat swamp forest modifies consecutively from the periphery to the centre of the swamp due to the declining nutrients in the soil. The succession of vegetation is marked by decreasing canopy height, decreasing total biomass per unit area, increasing leaf – thickness and decreasing average girth of certain species. xxi
There are two finding on forest community in peat swamp, which are peat swamp forest community in Sarawak and Brunei; and forest community in Sumatra. Both of these are resulted from Anderson and Whitmore.
The forest / phasic community (PC) classification can be described as: xxii
- PC1 or Gonystylus-Dactylocladus-Neoscrotechinia (Mixed swamp forest).
- PC2 or Shorea albida-Gonystylus-Stenonurus (Alan batu forest).
- PC3 or Shorea albida (Alan bunga forest).
- PC4 or Shorea albida-Litsea-Parastemon (Padang alan forest).
- PC5 or Tristania-Palaquium-Parastemon. It is a close transitional forest between PC4 and PC6.
- PC6 or Combretocarpus-Dactylocladus (Padang paya forest).
Further the structure of this forest community can be seen in the Figure 1-3 and Figure 1-4 xxiii, Table 1-1 xxiv and Table 1-2. xxv Beside that Anderson (1963) also found 1706 species of plants in peat swamp in Sarawak. In Sumatra Sewandono (1938) found that fewer than 100 species of tree exists. These data ensure the complexity of the forest.xxvi
The terrestrial fauna are not found abundantly in the peat swamp forest in Peninsular Malaysia. The existing fauna that present in this area is mostly primate that would be 10 groups per km2. One of the reasons is because primate needs vine-fruit which is not abundant there. xxvii
On the other hand Bornean peat swamps is able to support Bats, Primates, Rodents, Wild pigs, Mouse deer, Sambar deer and Tiger. They also support primates, like Langurs, Gibbons, Macaques and Orang-utan. This actually shows that peat-swamp forests are important as the habitat of endangered species.xxviii
Aquatic animals are also less abundant in it rivers. Only 10% fish species are found compared to other river in Malaysia. Cladocera (water fleas), annelid worms, rotifers, nematodes, protozoans are hardly found in the water. The reason is the low calcium content in the water and the high phenolic compounds in the water. xxix Further Figure 1-5 will present the fauna of lowland forests. xxx
Some decomposer organisms are found in the soil. But since the oxygen supply to the substrate and the energy sources are limited, the micro organisms can only compose in very slow process. Another factor of this is the resistance of phenolic compound to fungi, bacteria, roots, vertebrates, insects and worms. xxxi
Key Economic Products of Peat Swamp Forests
Since 1960 the peat swamp forest has been logged for Ramin (Gonystylus bancanus), Alan (Shorea albida), Meranti buaya (Shorea uliginosa), Jongkong, Nyatoh, Kapur, Sepetir, Jelutong, and Geronggang padang for commercial usexxxii. Shorea Albida is commonly used for rail-road sleepers that need to be change in every three years.
Other minor products from the forest are Kelubi fruit (Sallaca conferta), Rattan (5 types), fish and many medicinal plants and herbs. This is usually harvested by the Aborigine or called ‘Orang Asli.’xxxiii
Further other research on economic value of this product also has been done by Ramakrishna, Sundari, from Wetlands International – Malaysia Office. For example construction timber can be produced in 2,850 m3 annually in East Kalimantan Peat Swamp Forests and is worthy of $ 100,000. Later this is presented in Table 1-3. xxxiv
Past and Present Peat Swamp Forests Condition
In Southeast Asia, peat-swamp forests actually can be discovered in the lowlands of eastern Sumatra, Sarawak, Brunei, Malay Peninsula, south-western New Guinea, and southern Philippines. It was estimated that peat swamp forest in Indonesia are 17 million ha (Coultier,1957), in Sarawak 1.5 million ha (Anderson,1963), and in Malay Peninsula 0.5 million ha (Wyatt-Smith,1963).xxxv The past distribution of peat swamp forest further presented in Figure 1-6.xxxvi
Later MacKinnon (1997) found that in Sumatra only 4.219 million ha peat swamp forests were undisturbed in 1996 from 7.28 million ha area in the past (60% of former forest area).xxxvii Similarly Shamsudin (1996a) found that peat swamp forests in Peninsula Malaysia decreased to 0.34 million ha in 1991 from 0.67 million ha in 1981 (reserve 50% from 1981 condition).xxxviii
In 2001 WWF released the data on Borneo and Peninsula Malaysian peat swamp forests. Borneo peat swamp forests is estimated to be 6.75 million haxxxix, while Peninsular Malaysian peat swamp forests is estimated to be 0.36 million ha.xl Generally it shows that peat swamp forests areas are declined because of the human intervention.
Further we are going to review important functions of peat swamp forest: xli
- Mitigates flooding, and droughts in the area
- Provides fresh water supply
- Prevents saline water intrusion
- Genetic bank of unique biota and haven for animal species
- Provides variety of commercially valuable timber, latex, resins, traditional culture foods, dyes, medicinal plants, fungi and microbes
- Stores carbon and reducing CO2 contribution to global warming
- Regulates local climate via forest cover.
- Stores record of ecosystem’s natural history
- A valuable repository of ecological materials
Human Impacts in Past, Present and Future in Peat Swamp Forests
The human activities related to peat swamp forest in Malaysia and Indonesia are categorized into: logging, agriculture, minor forest harvesting, aquaculture, mining, and housing and industries.
To understand the condition of peat swamp forest we have to observe 5 stages of human activities in peat swamp forest by Victor Phillips (later presented in Figure 1-7), which are: xlii
- The healthy, undisturbed mixed peat swamp forest
- Logging process occurs and leaves several trees and pioneer species
- The practise of burning destroys the trees and the peat, the land is drained and cultivated. The land is fertilized and limed, and finally the crop is harvested.
- After 2 years the land is abandoned since the crops and the profit decline.
- Different communities occupy the land. The hydrology is changed and land subsidence occurs in 2.5 cm/year. The acid land prevents restoration of original forest communities.
Logging is one of main economy activity in forest area of Indonesia and Malaysia. For example since 1960, two-thirds of the total peat swamp forest in Sarawak, were seriously exploited, with selective logging.xliii Totally estimated the about 62.4 m3/ ha log was harvested in Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak.xliv This extensive logging is actually supported by machine equipment, traxcavator and canal systems.
While in Indonesia, it is estimated that possibly 11 million ha peat lands or 50% of peat swamp forest have been exploited (Silvius, 1987).xlv
In 1992, in Tanjung Puting National Park, South Eastern Kalimantan, Bennett and Gombek xlvi found that small numbers of animal species had survived in lightly logged peat swamp forest, including orang-utans, proboscis monkeys and gibbons. On the other hand in the Maludam, Sarawak, populations of the proboscis monkeys and silvered langurs have decreased since post-logging silviculture (Bennett, 1989).xlvii The loss actually occurs after the slash and burn process. Other endangered species in Sarawak’s peat swamp forests is the Red-banded Langur and Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus).xlviii
Conversions of peat swamp forest to agriculture were common in Indonesia and Malaysia. There are two kind of cultural practices in peat swamp. First is silviculture that relies only from rain water for irrigation. Second is the intensive agriculture that uses drainage. Both of culture types actually require application of lime and fertiliser to get good yield. The products from deep peat are oil palm, sago, palm, and coffee. While the products produced from shallow peat are ginger, soya bean, cabbage, capsicum, onion, and tomato.xlix
One big example how the agriculture affected the peat swamp ecosystem is the the Mega Rice Project in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Because of conversion of about one million hectares of rice paddy in Java, President Soeharto ordered to create paddy field in the same numbers of area in peat swamps in Borneo. Without international aid organisations and funding agencies, he endorsed the project from reforestation fund in the forestry ministry.l
Since there is no independent environmental impact assessment (EIA), the project actually had swiped half a million hectares of primary peat swamp forest, killed around 5,000 Orang-utan, and created more than 4,600 kilometres of channels. After 5 years actually the 60,000 settlers in that area can not grow enough rice or substitute crops to exist. This causes more disease and poverty also illegal logging in remaining forest.li
This is a good example of unsustainable logging and agriculture in peat swamp forest has contributed to forest fire; climate change (CO2 release); loss of biodiversity; depletion of water table; and land subsidence.
Minor Product Harvesting
As mentioned above in the key economic products of peat swamp forest, the Aborigines people harvested the medicinal plants, fruit, rattan, etc. These activities are actually found a sustainable way of using the natural resources of the forest. One example is the Semelai community in Tasek Bera.lii
The community actually harvest rattans, gaharu wood, keruing oil, dammar that can be sold while the ladies collect mengkuang, kercut, rasau, and selinsing leaves that later dried and made into mats and basketry. The important part of this development are the market comparison and pricing for the products. A lot of improvements are needed since the Semelai community live under the poverty line income.liii
The aquaculture needs removal of the peat soil. This activity actually promotes a depletion of fresh water table resulting further in saline water intrusion. Very clear this is not a sustainable use of peat lands.liv
Mining is another human activity that affects the peat swamp forest. It is reported several kind of mining such as Tin mining in Malaysialv, Sand mining in Andulau Peat Swamp Forest, Bruneilvi, and Gold mining in The Tanjung Puting National Park, Indonesia.lvii Actually mining also is not a sustainable use of peat swamp. These activities actually contribute to degradation of landscape; and water and land pollution (for illegal gold mining).
Land Use Conversion to Housing and Industries
Land use conversion is the common use of peat swamp forest after the agriculture phasing down. This is happened in coastal cities because of low price of the peat land. For example numbers of large cities in Borneo are located in the coastal areas, these cities actually expanded themselves to peat swamp.lviii Further in Malaysia the peat swamp areas are changed into industrial and residential development because of social-economic need.lix This activity brings impact, such as: climate change; depletion of water table; and air, water, and land pollution.
Proposed Actions for Reduce Impact of Peat Swamp Forests Use
Actually many actions have been done by the International agencies as well as Malaysia and Indonesia Government to overcome the impact of the peat swamp utilisation. Types of actions that have been done so far are: workshops, research, setting nature reserves and sustainable forest.
For example the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment Malaysia organised workshop to proposed Conservation and Sustainable Use of Peat Swamp Forests in Malaysia, assisted by Wetlands International and proposing funding from Global Environment Facility (GEF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). lx
In Malaysia it is reported in July 10th, 2003 The Malaysia Government set a RM20 million project to endorse conservation and sustainable use of peat swamp forests. The program further gathers the best practices of sustainable use and implemented them in 3.3 million ha of peat swamp forest. This project is funded by the UNDP/ GEF, Danish International Development Agency (Danida) and executed by The Primary Industries Ministry and Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM). Further these researches are going to be implemented in National Park such as: Loagan Bunut National Park in Sarawak, the Klias Peninsula in Sabah and the Southeast Pahang Peat Swamp Forest.lxi
Some example of Indonesia peat swamp forests reserves are Berbak National Park in Jambilxii, Giam-Siak Kecil Wildlife Reservelxiii, Kerinci Seblat National Parklxiv, Padang Sugihan Wildlife Reservelxv, and etc.
Other research programs that conducted in peat swamps are:
- Forest Resources Management for Carbon Sequestration (FORMACS) in Indonesia lxvi
- The Climate Change, Forests and Peatlands in Indonesia Project (CCFPI) in Indonesialxvii
Peat swamp forests are very unique ecosystem. Without low fertility, high water table, high acidity and enormous carbon sink, the utilisation of this forest need more sustainable management in the future since the people that live around it also need to use the resources. Further some important species also has to be conserved to protect the biodiversity. This can be done with setting nature reserves. In the future we hope the sustainable practice will be implemented in the South East Asian forestry.
i Whitmore T.C. Tropical Rain Forest of the Far East, Oxford University 1984 p.180
Yamada I. Tonan Ajia no Nettai Taurin Sekai. Tokyo: Sobunsha. (Translated to English in _ by P. Hawkes, Tropical Rain Forests of Southeast Asia: A Forest Ecologist’s View. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press) 1997 p.78
Miller G.T. Environmental Science, Working With Earth, 10th edition, Brooks/Cole Thomson Learning USA 2003 p.120
Whitmore T.C. Tropical Rain Forest of the Far East, Oxford University 1988 p.55
Whitten T. The Ecology of Sumatra, Periplus, North Clarendon, Hong Kong 2000 p.167
Rieley, J.O. The ecology of tropical peatswamp forest – A South-East Asian Perspective. In Tropical Peat, Proceedings of International Symposium on Tropical Peatland, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, 6-10 May 1991 (B.Y. Aminuddin, ed.) Kuching, Malaysia. Malaysia Agricultural Research Development Institute & Department of Agriculture, Sarawak, Malaysia 1992 pp. 244 – 54
Anderson J.A.R. The Ecology and Forest Types of the Peat Swamp Forests of Sarawak and Brunei in Relation to Their Silviculture. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Vol. I (191 pp) and Vol. II (appendices). University of Edinburgh 1961
Phillips V.D. “Peatswamp Ecology and Sustainable Development in Borneo,” Biodiversity and Conservation 7 1998 pp.661-663
Op.cit.2, p. 81
xxx Op.cit.5, p.37
xxxii FAO The Peat Swamp Forests of Sarawak and their Potential for Development, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Forestry and Forest Industries Development, Malaysia. FO: DP/MAL/72/009 Technical Report No. 3. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 1974
Lee H.S. Utilization and Conservation of Peatswamp Forests in Sarawak, In Tropical Peat, Proceedings of International Symposium on Tropical Peatland, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, 6-10 May 1991 (B.Y. Aminuddin, ed.) Kuching, Malaysia: Malaysia Agricultural Research Development Institute & Department of Agriculture, Sarawak, Malaysia 1992 pp. 286-292
Lee H.S., and Chai F. Production Functions of Peat Swamp Forests in Sarawak, In Tropical Lowland Peatlands of Southeast Asia, Proceedings of Workshop on Integrated Planning and Management of Tropical Lowland Peatlands, Cisarua, Indonesia, 3-8 July 1992 (E. Maltby, C.P. Immirzi and R.J. Safford, eds.) Gland, Switzerland: IUCN International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 1996 pp.129-136
xxxiii Phang T.J., and Effendi M.K. (ed) Proceedings of the GEF Inception Workshop on Conservation and Sustainable Landuse of Peat Swamp Forests in Malaysia, 24-25 July 1997 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment, Malaysia 1997 pp.31-32
Shamsudin I. The Extent of Disturbed and Undisturbed Peat Swamp Forest in Peninsular Malaysia Unpublished Report to FRIM
Shamsudin I. “Forest Management Systems in Peat Swamp Forest: A Malaysian Perspective,” in Maltby E., Immirzi C.P., Saffard R.J. (eds) Proceedings of A Workshop on Integrated Planning and Management of Tropical Lowland Peatlands, IUCN 1996b pp.175-180
Jalong N.P. and Ngui S.K. The Forest Resource Base of Sarawak and Its Contribution to Natural and Development, Presented at 7th Malaysian Forestry Conference 24-26 September, Penang 1979
Bennett E.L. and Gombek F. “Wildlife and Conservation in Sarawak’s Peat Swamp Forests.” In Tropical Peat, Proceedings of International Symposium on Tropical Peatland, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, 6-10 May 1991 (B.Y. Aminuddin, ed.) Kuching, Malaysia: Malaysia Agricultural Research Development Institute & Department of Agriculture, Sarawak, Malaysia 1992 pp.307-310
Bennett E.L. Conservation and Management of Wetland Areas in Sarawak. WWF Project No. 3518 (MYS 92/86) Final Report. New York: Worldwide Fund for Nature, Kuala Lumpur/New York Zoological Society. 1989
Carey I. Orang Asli: The Aboroginal Tribes of Peninsular Malaysia. Oxford University Press. Kuala Lumpur 1976 pp.250-267
lix Op.cit.33, p.33
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