The Star Malaysia - Star2
Clean water in and out
Pristine river water helps breed fish, which in turn fertilises plants, which then clean the water in a virtuous loop.
THE size of the project was smaller than we expected, but its significance was much larger.
After a short uphill trek, we arrived at the 12th mile Orang Asli Settlement in Gombak, Selangor (along the old road to Genting Highlands).
Next to a house belonging to Raman Bahtuin, 46, were four huge plastic water tanks rearing fish such as tilapia (freshwater cichlid) and puyu (climbing perch).
Stacked above the tanks were trays containing water spinach plants. And the water itself was pristine stuff channelled down naturally from the Gombak River.
We were looking at an aquaponics system set up by students from the Aquatic Science Students Association at UCSI University.
The association is one of six grantees – consisting community groups and universities in Malaysia – who received a total of RM30,000 to implement river care projects under the third cycle of the National River Care Fund (NRCF).
The UCSI students, who received a RM5,000 grant, set up an aquaponics system at the orang asli settlement – which has a population of about 3,000 – to promote sustainable management of the river and boost the livelihood of the community there.
“The students wanted to to give back to the community. The project also created awareness on river protection among them,” said UCSI aquatic science head of programme Dr Teo Swee Sen.
“The orang asli aquaponics system is an ideal example because it involves teaching the indigenous community about utilising the river in their settlement,” said Dr K Kalithasan, project manager of NRCF and coordinator of the River Care Programme at GEC, during the site visit. “With it, they can produce their own food and potentially earn additional income using green and sustainable methods.”
Two birds, one stone
He added that the project has also provided a platform for UCSI students to be empowered in actual problem-saving initiatives through community outreach.
“As we are nearing the end of the project cycle, the purpose of this visit is to see how successful the project is and how practical is it to be duplicated by other communities,” explained Kalithasan.
Initiated by the Global Environment Centre, the NCRF was first established in 2015 and aims to support efforts made by interested groups to care for rivers, particularly to protect and enhance river ecosystems.
To date, it has given out 19 community grants totalling RM106,000 benefiting 26 recipients consisting community groups, education institutions and other interest groups.
Aquaponics is a system that combines aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing of plants without soil). The system integrates fish and plants together to provide organic food for the plants, which then naturally filter the water for the fish. So fish and plants complement each other – just like in nature.
The students first started working on the project in February by doing water quality tests along different parts of the Gombak River. They found that there was not much pollution in the water and that nitrate and phosphorus levels were high, making the water suitable for plants and fish.
“Prior to this project, we found that the orang asli were getting their fish and vegetables from the market far away. So we thought of setting up the aquaponic system to bring the source of food nearer to them,” said student advisor Jason Lim.
The river water used in the system is channelled directly from a river point located about 2km upstream via gravity flow – this means that it flows down naturally with-