Towards a sustainable oil palm management system
WHEN Dr Holly Barclay first worked with fellow conservationists and researchers in the beautiful and lush forests of Sabah, she knew Malaysia was a place she would ultimately return to in the future.
Three years later, Dr Barclay is now a researcher and lecturer based at Monash University Malaysia.
“Coming to Malaysia is great because as a conservationist, there are a lot of interesting issues here,” she says.
But it is not the lush rainforests in which she first worked in that have caught her interest. Instead, Dr Barclay’s current work is focused on studying how aquatic organisms – specifically small animals such as insect larvae, crustaceans and molluscs – respond to environmental changes in oil palm plantations.
“I study freshwater systems inside oil palm plantations and my background is mainly in zoology and ecology. I look at how the changes in the environment in an oil palm plantation affects animals living in streams and rivers,” says Dr Barclay.
She says that oil palm is one of the world’s most rapidly expanding crops – over five million hectares of land are now used to grow oil palm in Malaysia.
While the government has put in certain limitations to the expansion of plantations to minimise the environmental impact of plantations, there is a growing need to monitor and mitigate the negative impact of oil palm cultivation within plantations.
“To know how to effectively implement sustainable management methods, we need to know how management of plantations affects water quality and aquatic biodiversity within oil palm water- ways, and then use this information to help managers minimise these impacts,” says Dr Barclay.
She adds that her research can also be used to determine how to monitor changes within a plantation, by the presence of different kinds of animals and species.
“One of the reasons I chose to do my research on this is because there is very little that is known about all the different species of invertebrates found in these oil palm plantation streams.
“The tropics is just so biodiverse, that there are a lot of species we have not looked at yet,” she says.
Working out in the field is one of the highlights of her work, and she shares what that is like in an oil palm plantation in Selangor.
“After we arrive on the plantation, we will decide where to take samples, based on several factors. Once we decide, we will make a visual assessment of the area, and then proceed to take our samples using nets,” she explains.
The samples are then processed in the lab.
Dr Barclay says she hopes to be able to share her passion for conservation with her students, starting off with an inter-disciplinary course called “Sustainable Planet” which is being introduced as a summer course this year.
“Having a view on the conservation effort in our world today can certainly be an advantage for any student, regardless of their discipline,” says Dr Barclay.
“Going green is an agenda that is growing in importance. Conservation is no longer just important for those working in the sciences. If you are an engineer, a doctor or an artist, this is going to affect everyone.”
For more information, log on to monash.edu.my
Dr Barclay hopes to share her passion for conservation with her students.