Saturday, May 30, 2009

Diversity of Observations

This morning as I had my breakfast in the Mamas & Papas Restaurant at Radisson Hotel, Copenhagen, I had the chance to read the English newspapers called The Financial Times. I was overjoyed to know what is happening outside the hotel. I picked a few observations just to share with you.

1. Mr. Kofi Annan the former Secretary-Genneral of the United Nations and now President of the Global Humanity Forum had these to say
a) Climate change is claiming 300,000 lives a year now, By the year 2030 more than 500,000 people will die every year because of the effects of warming temperature and a further 600 million people will be suffering the damage of climate change.
b) The annual cost to the global economy is estimated at USD 125 billions. The losses to the world's economy would rise to USD 340 billions a year by 2030, that spring from factors such as lower crop yield, malnutrition and the spread of diseases and cosequent strain on health services.

2. Ms Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive of Oxfam added,"People think climate change is something happening in the future. But we know that it is happening now."

3. During the Cultural Revolution in China when China's ubiquitous state security agents want to intimidate a dissident or political activitist for the first time, they usually come knocking in the middle of the night with an invitation for a "cup of tea". Once the tea is served in some secret location, the agenst explained that if their guest continues publicly to critise the Communist party or government, the likely consequences range from unemployment to long prison sentences or even "disappearance" for them, their families and friends.

4. Do you know that Dame Margaret Thatcher was born in 1925 as Ms. Margaret Roberts, worked as a chemist before studying for the Bar. In 1951 she married Mr. Denise Thatcher, with whom she had a twin, Mark and Carol. She was elected as a Conservative MP of Finchley (don't know where it is) in 1959 and served as Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Pensions under the Macmillan government. In 1979 she becae the first UK's female Prime Minister. She was an ally of President Ronald Reagan but reached out to reformist Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1990 in the face of internal dissent, she stepped down as party leader and in 1992 was elevated to the Lords.

5. A quotation, "Two wrongs don't make a right, but they make a good excuse." - Thomas Szasz, a Hungarian Psychiatrist. I used a similar phrase to urge Prof. OO to drive a better car, "Two Citras don't make a Merc, but they make a good exhibit in your porch."

6. Another quotation,"You ca do thousands more things by being a cook for your country than you can as a politician," - Gaston Acurio, A Peruvian chef.

7. Another one, if you can bear with me, "I live for wisdom and beauty, which make me happy. In my own experience, wisdom comes from finding truth ...Beauty comes from people." - Ms Marilyn vos Savant, a lady with the IQ of 228.

Oh No Don't Let The Himalayan Ice Melts Down

Photo courtesy ©Thomas Nash 2007.

1. We have been informed that climate change in the Himalayas is a foregone conclusion but it still remains one of the biggest challenge for humanity. Geologically, the Himalayas are the youngest and most ecologically fragile mountains of the world, and yet they are highly vulnerable to climate change.

2. The Himalayas stretch across Myanmar, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China, serving as a source to three of the world's major river systems, the Indus, the Yangtze and the Ganga-Brahmaputra. They are in fact the line-line for more than a billion people in Asia and its biodiversity.

3. In term of biodiversity, the Himalayas contain many viable populations of iconic and threatened species of plants and animals of the world. To mention a few these would include the Bangal Tiger, the Asian Elephants, the rhinoceros, etc. The Himalayas flora is well-known to the Japanese botanists for they pioneered the many studies there, not to mention of course the local Indian, Bangladeshis, Nepalese and Chinese etc botanists who had documented the many endemic and medicinal plant species.

4. The Himalayas has a rich culture across Bhutan, Nepal and northern India where this tapestry hides the fragile landscape where traditional practices and beliefs are eroding under population growth, political instability and threats from unplanned socio-economic developmentm deforestation and of course climate change.

5.The Himalayas store fresh water in the lakes, carbon, glaciers and above all the ICE. With the onslaught of climate change, the region is experiencing episodes of drought, increased temperature and altered precipitation. We were informed many fresh water lakes have been formed up there due to the constant melting ice.

6. The questions normally asked include what would happen to life down under in Yangtze Chia and Indian Indus and Ganga-Brahmiputra especially those people living along the three great rivers if more ice melts and constant and sporadic floods occur. Could you then imagine how would the millions adapt to these scenarios?. The analogy is what would happen to many cities and their millions of populations in Asia if the ocean level rises between 2-6 meters!

Friday, May 29, 2009

On the Diversity of Opinions

1. During the tenureship of Tun Mahathir as our Prime Minister, he stressed the freedom of expression as a tenet of democratic Malaysia. As a nation striving to be a developed one by the year 2020, the citizens must be assured democratic values.

2. Yet there were "ghosts" which and who monitored the opinion expresses by citizens which were construed as anti-government or opposed to the preferred opinions of the government leaders. I found this very disturbing. I quote you some examples that I knew.

a) A professor of mathematics who expressed his opinion that the statistics published by the Ministry of Education on the proficiency of English among the primary students who studied Science & Mathematics was flawed was threatened. In fact he was threatened with demotion and his contract terminated.
b) An associate professor of agreed with the reformation as proposed by Dato Sri Anuwar Ibrahim was asked to reprt to Kajang police station for questoning.
c) A student leader who was accused of distributing pro-opposition pamphlets was suspended for a semester of her studies and an intelligent tutor was denied to pursue his PhD overseas as he was failed by TataNegara facilitators for speaking his mind.
d) Twelve lecturers were called by the university authority who were accused as anti-UMNO and some of them happenned to be hardcore pro-government slaves.

3. When the then Minister of Education asked the universities to look at the possibility of reducing the 4-year to 3-year curriculum for the first degree in order to increase the skilled labour for the industrialising Malaysia, the Vice Chancellors, without much surveys and studied implemented that. Now we are consuming that fruits of ill-conceived fertilised ovules. Intellectually the students were ill-prepared for industries.

4. When some of our diplomats could not expressed their opinions well in English and when some government leaders believed that science and technology are important for Malaysia, English is believed to be the medium of communication. However, I believed that to show that 2 + 2 = 4 does not require English; to show E = MC2 does not require English, to show the chemical formula of thiocarbamate also does not require English and to teach the Theory of Evolution does not require English. However, English is required as a strong second language for all Malaysian, just like the Germans, Danish, Dutch, Brazilians, Tunisians, etc.

5. Why are peaceful demonstrations not allowed in a democratic Malaysia? Some people said it was not our culture to demonstrate, our culture taught us to be silent and obedient. Some people said we were apeing our Thai and Indonesian cousins, and they are not good for tourism and foreign investments. Some people said we were making the police force to work over-time and its is costing money on the part of the government. Some peaceful demonstrations were purposely disrupted by to prove their points that these were the works of "extremists" (see Che Det's blog)

6. I just want to see Malaysia and Malaysians follow the democratic principles and tenets so that when we attain Vision 2020 in some 10 years time we will be a Nation of First World Mentality

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity

1. The are at least two research groups in Malaysia, that I know, that look into the economics of ecosystem and biodiversity. One in Universiti Putra Malaysia led by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Awang Noor Abdul Ghani and Prof. Dr. Shahwahid, both are forest economists and the other in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia led by Prof. Dr. Jamal Othman, an economist.

2. There is so much benefits that ecosystem biodiversity service could provide us and also the growing cost of biodiversity loss, not to mention also ecosystem degradation. There are studies elsewhere that are aimed to:
a) integrate ecological and economic knowledge to structure the evaluation of ecosystem services
b) address different ecosystem valuation methodologies
c) determine the economic costs of biodiversity decline and loss
d) raise public awareness of the impact on biodiversity and ecosystems

3. The challenge is really to manage our desire for food, energy, drugs and raw materials. while minimising adverse impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem service For instance it has been estimated that about USD3 trillion per year is lost as a result of defrestation and degradation. It is ironic that about USD 45 billions of the annual investment went into protected areas. It is thus estimated that some USD 5 trillion a year is needed to secure the delivery of ecosystem services.

4. When we prepared the National Biodiversity Policy document in 1998, we talked about the inclusion of sound ecosystem management and the inclusion of green capital in governmental and business accounting. However, that talk went on deaft ears.

5. I see this should be addressed at three levels. A policy toolkit is necessary to provide guidance for policy makers, coverig subsidies and incentives, environmental liability, new market structure, national income accounting, cost-benefit analysis etc

6. Secondaly, there is a need to create public awareness on the direct and indirect value o ecosystems and biodiversity and thirdly, it is imperative to mitigate or offset corporate impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity. There are many examples in the developed countries that showed successful business models that recognise the value of ecosystem services and biodiversity.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

On the diversity of Haniffia Holttum (Zingiberaceae)

1. In Peninsular Malaysia there are four genera named after notable Malaysians. The fungus genus Nawawia named after Emer. Prof. Dato' Dr. Ahmad Nawawi Hj. Ayub, ex Deputu Vice Chancellor, Dean & Head of Botany Department, University of Malaya. The genus Kochummenia (Rubiaceae) is named after the late Mr. K. M. Kochummen, once the living dictionary of dendrology of FRIM; Abdulmajidia (Lecythidaceae) is named after the late Mr. Abdul Majid, ex Forest Conservator of Malaya. He was the father of jazz-singer and celebrity Sheila Majid and Haniffia is named after the late Mohd. Haniff, a famous plant collector, gardener and curator of Penang Botanical Gardens

2. The genus Haniffia was named and described by the late Holttum in 1950 to accomodate a taxon, Ellettariopsis cyanescencs of Ridley (1904). The species is known from Bukit Tangga, Negeri Sembilan.

3. The second species Haniffia albiflora is described by Kai Larsen & J. Mood in 2000 based on specimens from Narathiwat province, Thailand. This species has white flowers with labellum white and yellow blotch at base. Whereas H. cyanescens has violet flowers and its labellum has white veins.

4. In the same year, Datuk Seri C K Lim described a new taxon from Penang that has white flowers with labellum veins blotched violet. In addition, the petiole apparently very short or absent. He named it Haniffia cyanescence var. penangiana.

5. Last year Datuk Seri C K Lim apparently collected another taxon that may be new, as it differs from the above taxa, from Perak. The specimen lacks flowers to ascertain its taxonomic status.

6. My student Ms. Rohana Kamarul Ariffin (2009) studied the three taxa, excluding H. albiflora and noted that they differ in detailed morphology and anatomy. She investigated the anatomy of petiole, midrib, lamina (margin), adaxial and abaxial epidermis. There are enough evidences to elevate var. penangiana to a specific rank. However, she is short of doing molecular studies, in particular DNA sequencing to ascertain their phylogenetic relationship.

7. I am keen the get the fresh samples of the four taxa to do some molecular studies.


Friday, May 22, 2009

On Botanical Gardens and Arboretum

1. In the colonial days the British established a few Botanical Gardens in Malaya, the Botanical Gardens in Singapore, Penang, Taiping and Kuala Lumpur. The one in Singapore remains vibrant as a Botanical Garden, giving prestige and scientific integrity to the island republic. The one in Pulau Pinang is best called, "Botanical-Monkey" Gardens, that in Taiping has become a Tai Chi Gardens and the one in Kuala Lumpur has become a mixed bag garden of a sort. Thanks to the independent Malaya!

2. In the last decade the Botanical Garden in Putrajaya is established but it has not acquired the status of a Botanical Gardens in the scientific sense. In Melaka there is Ayer Keroh Botanical Gardens, again it is mixed bag garden. These gardens are developed by engineers and landscape architects without much botanical and scientific inputs. In the case of the former there was a futile attempt to incoprporate some of the botanical brains of the country, the like of Prof. E. Soepadmo, Dr. Francis S. P Ng, Dr. Saw Leng Guan and Prof. K. M. Wong but it not materialise.

3. At the other state level there are no Botanical Gardens, though there was a rumour last year that Terengganu might want to establish one. Johor has one Botanical Garden in Batu Pahat which is yet to qualify as a botanical garden. Sabah and Sarawak have no botanical garden.

4. The Department of Forestry Peninsular Malaysia wishes to establish a National Arboretum in Bidor, Perak. This augurs very well with the national aspiration in light of the country becoming a some-what developed nation by 2020.

5. Currently, there is one Arboretum at FRIM in Kepong. The Non-Dipterocarp Arboretum and the Dipterocarp Arboretum are well maintained for education and research.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Biodiversity Seminar of Gunung Gagau & Tasik Kenyir

1. On 11-12 May, some 50 scientists and staffs of PERHILITAN and KETENGAH gathered at Lake Kenyir Resort & Spa to discuss the findings of the Scientific Expedition to Gunung Gagau. The expedition was conducted in february 2008 and this seminar was organised by Akademi Sains Malaysia with PERHILITAN & KETENGAH.

2. The geologists, Dr. Kamal Roslan, Dr. Che Aziz and Prof. Shaffea discussed the geological formation of Gunung Gagau (1376 m above sea level) and the geology of the surrounding areas as geoassets. The geological heritage of Gua Bewah and Gua Taat was also discussed.

3. Three papers on herpetofauna were presented. Dr. Norhayati discussed the diversity of the herpetofauna of Sungai Tebat area; Mr. Daicus Belabut discussed the herpetofauna of Gua Bewah and mr. Hamidi discussed that of Gunung Gagau. In a way the three presenters covered the whole area of Tasik Kenyir and Gunung Gagau. While there is no new species discovered, there is a need to investigate further the lizards of Gua Bewah.

4. Ms Nik Norhazrina discussed the moss flora of Gunung Gagau that recorded a total of 45 new records for Terengganu bryoflora. Mr. Razali Jaman presented the pteridophyte flora of Gunung Gagau, with a few new records and two unresolved taxa. Dr. Mohd. Nazre discussed the flowering plants along the trail to Gunung Gagau. He pointed the occurrence of some populations of Rafflesia cantleyi and Rhizanthes infanticida at Sungai Cicir and Sungai Pak Chau.

5. In my summary, I pointed the need to translate this rich and diverse biodiversity and geodiversity of Gunung Gagau and Tasik Kenyir area for the development of ecotourism products. We took note of the future proposed physical and ecotourism development of Tasik Kenyir by KETENGAH.

*picture from KETENGAH official website

Friday, May 8, 2009

Biodiversity Scientific Expedition of Pulau Pangkor

1. From the early morning of 5th May to the late evening of 7th May, more than 130 scientists from the local universities (UM, USM, UPM, UKM, UMT, UiTM, UTM, UPSI), research institutes (FRIM, SIRIM) and government departments (PERHILITAN, Forestry departments, Botanic Gardens Putrajaya, NAHRIM) took part in the Scientific Expedition of Pulau Pangkor. It was efficiently and systematically organised by the Forestry Department of Perak & Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia.

2. This time no geologists took part as the rock formation of Pulau P)angkor is not interesting - they are all granites.

3. Dr. Wan Ruslan of USM surveyed the water quality of small rivers and streams and concluded that it belongs to Class 1 - hence very clean. The researchers from NAHRIM also surveyed the water resources. Apologies from the team of Dr. Mohd Kamil of UPM whose vehicles went into trouble at Slim River, hence it was hauled back to the campus.

4. The fauna teams had their day. The team Dr. Shahrul Anuar (USM) caught and observed many species of bats and other non-volant small mammals in their harp traps and mist nets. The teams from FRIM led by Ms Azlin and PERHILITAN led by Ms Rahmah observed the avifauna. All of us were amazed by the behaviour of the hornbills which waited to be fed early in the morning by the spoilers. Dr. Norhayati Ahmad (UKM) surveyed the amphibians and reptiles.

5. Dr. Y F Ng (UKM) surveyed the thrips, Dr. C Y Choong (UKM) surveyed the odonates, Dr. Fauziah Abdullah (UM) surveyed the beetles, Azman of Forestry Department Pahang and Mr. Chooi (UPM) surveyed the spiders, Mr Cheong (UPM) surveyed the termites, the team from UKM caught the moths and butterflies.

6. Haji Ahmad Zainudin (Putrajaya) and Kak Fah (UPM) surveyed the higher plants, Dr. Rusea Go (UPM) and Mr A Rhman Jalil (Pahang) surveyed the orchids, Mr. Tajuddin (UPM) collected the medicinal plants, Dr. Haja Maideen surveyed the pteridophytes, Cik Gu Nasir (ULP Kepong) and Ranger Salleh (Terengganu) surveyed the dipterocarps, Dr. Wan Juliana surveyed the mangroves and Dr. Mohd Nizam (UKM) studied the forest structure.

7. Mr Azid Adam (Perak) surveyed the Balau Putih (Shorea lumutensis) in Sungai Pinang Forest Reserve especially in Compartment 2 and 5. The Forestry Depantment intends to carry out a 100% inventory of the species. It is an endemic species found only in Pulau Pangkor, Lumut and Segari Melintang. Cik Gu Nasir casted some doubts on its present distribution as he thinks the species also occur in Terengganu and Johor. Accordingly, the species is closely related to Shorea cuspidatum, if not conspecific with it.

Details of their findings will be featured in my future postings.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A trip to Mount Kinabalu

1. Some members of the Faculty of Science & Technology paid a visit to Sabah Parks. On the 30th April we had a tripartite meeting with Sabah Parks and Institute for Tropical Biodiversity Conseercation of UMS. The meeting was chaired by Dr. Jamili Nais, Deputy Director Sabah Parks.

2. The three partners agreed in principle to embark on R & D undertakings at least at two different parks, namely at Kinabalu park and Tun Sankaran Dandai Marine Park, for a start. The former for the terrestrial biodiversity and the latter for the marine biodiversity.

3. On 1st May nine members climbed to Layang-Layang, but in the afternoon Prof. Datuk Dr. Noramly was escorted back as he had a right thigh cram. I was informed three went on to Panar Laban but failed to scaled up the peak as it was raining.

4. On the 1st and the morning of the 2nd May, I worked in the herbarium identifying and annotated the Vitaceae lodged there. Apparently, I did this work twice in 1984, repeated it in 1987 and went back there in 1993. But this was my first visit to work in the new herbarium. Incidently I had identified all the specimens except one sterile specimen of Tetrastigma of which I had no clue.

5. This morning we visited the herbarium and the labs of UMS and all of us were impressed with the new and first-class lab facilities in this Institute. It was Sunday yet many staffs turned up to be with us. Thank you.