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Conservation Spotlight: Kinabatangan River Spirit Initiative
Kinabatangan River Spirit: Contributing to Freshwater Conservation & Sustainable Livelihoods in Northern Borneo
Although well known for its terrestrial biodiversity, Borneo Island is also a hotspot for aquatic diversity, with almost 40% of its freshwater fish species endemic to the island. The most isolated among the island’s watersheds, the Kinabatangan River has the highest levels of freshwater endemism on the island. Unfortunately, degradation of the river is experienced by local communities. Water critical for rural and urban populations is polluted and highly sedimented; and freshwater fish important for livelihoods have become scarce. Although river dwellers recognize the changes in the river, nothing has been done to document the loss in fish diversity or change in overall river health. Communities have had little role in the future of their river and have been left to adapt to the seemingly inevitable.
After spending 15 years in the United States, including a seven-year financial career in New York City, Tun-Min Poh discovered her passion for saving the fish and wanted to spread the word. She is now committed to marine and freshwater conservation, promoting sustainable fisheries in her home country of Malaysia. She runs the Kinabatangan River Spirit Initiative in Malayan-Borneo, a freshwater conservation project with a focus on fish and a community-based approach.
She spoke about this initiative at the Zoos and Aquariums Committed to Conservation Conference (ZACC) earlier this summer, hosted by Blank Park Zoo. The Kinabatangan River Spirit Initiative was conceived on the basis that community participation in research and management is critical for achieving a healthy river, and developed based on the needs identified by the local Kinabatangan community. The project envisages a healthy Kinabatangan river, which supports robust freshwater biodiversity, persistence of local culture, and sustainable development. The goals of this project include providing a baseline for fish diversity, gathering information on locally and globally threatened species, and strengthening the argument for sustainable development practices in the Kinabatangan catchment.
Tun-Min Poh recently sent over pictures to the Zoo documenting their work.
Workshop hosted by community-based eco-tourism cooperative KOPEL with local communities in Batu Puteh and
Mengaris to present and discuss our project and freshwater fish conservation (September 7, 2013)
A total of 45 interviews were conducted in the villages of Batu Puteh and Mengaris to identify the value of the river to the community, determine the threats, and find solutions. Here is one of our interviewers, Mr. Abdul Rahman from the Mengaris community, presenting a t-shirt to an interviewee. The production of these t-shirts was made possible by the contribution of ZACC!
The kids from Batu Puteh and Mengaris were thrilled to see their home the Kinabatangan and its wildlife presented in a poster made by their peers in the United States!