To­wards a sus­tain­able oil palm man­age­ment sys­tem

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - EDUCATION GUIDE -

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.”

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Dr Bar­clay hopes to share her pas­sion for con­ser­va­tion with her stu­dents.

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