Environmental Monitoring & Restoration Sciences

Environmental Monitoring & Restoration Sciences

Even though KOPEL has been working for many years to protect and restore local heritage, our rainforests, and local ecosystems, there are still many things we don’t know, and we are still actively learning, experimenting, and searching for answers and broader technical input. The Kinabatangan is extremely diverse, each site we work in is different, and we are working in some of the most challenging tropical seasonally flooded habitats. There is no “textbook” or “hundreds of years of research” to guide our work in the areas we work. Over the years, many questions have arisen about the effectiveness of forest and lake restoration work on the surrounding forest habitat and ecosystems. These questions are welcomed as this makes us re-examine what we do. Are we making a difference? Is there a better way of doing things? All in all, these questions inspire the need to examine our work more closely, and likewise collect better evidence over time - in essence to monitor the work we do.

In parallel with our efforts over time, local ecosystems in the Kinabatangan Floodplain have also shown to be ever changing. Over the last twenty years, for example, we have experienced more than three major droughts! At the same time, we have also experienced destructive forest fires! Historically speaking “forest fires in a rainforest” is unprecedented, and in the Kinabatangan case, the impacts are significantly greater because trees species and ecosystems are not adapted to fires. Parallel and highly visible changes are the dramatic decline in fisheries over the same period. Environmental impacts such as these have had dramatic impact on the local community, on local livelihoods, and likewise on the work we do.

In light of this experience, many questions have arisen about our work and also parallel changes impacting the environments we work in. This has led to a growing imperative to monitor our local environments and ecosystems more closely, in essence moving our conservation work forward with parallel scientific emphasis.

Environmental monitoring by KOPEL Bhd was initiated formally in 2012 by starting a permanent water quality monitoring and wildlife monitoring program in the Pin-Supu Forest Reserve and on the Kinabatangan River. The establishment of these fledgeling monitoring programs was supported with technical expertise from the Rakuno Gakuen University Hokaido Japan. The monitoring work was later expanded to include the sampling of permanent forest plots, the monitoring of swiftlet populations in nearby caves, and more recently, in 2018, the monitoring of the biocontrol agent Cyrtobagous salviniae.

KOPEL’s monitoring programs have grown to be an important input into the ongoing management of the Pin-Supu Forest Reserve, and in the process fulfil KOPEL’s management agreement obligations to state government agencies such as the Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Agriculture Department. In this way the monitoring programs have provided input into protected area management and provided input into broader landscape level ecological monitoring and management.

Over the years, many student groups have participated in KOPEL’s environmental monitoring, from cave mapping, camera trapping and even water quality sampling. The list of monitoring activities is long and growing. The list of schools and universities that visit annually from all parts of the globe to learn from and contribute to this unique program is also growing. School and university student monitoring activities have grown to be a vital part of the overall monitoring program for KOPEL.

As with much of KOPEL’s programs, ecotourists and voluntourists underpin much of the work, by providing critical funding through their stay with us, as much as their volunteer efforts to get the job done. The spin-offs are beneficial in multiple ways, both for participants, and for KOPEL’s monitoring programs. Even so, these activities are seriously hard work and not for the light-hearted. They are not classroom science, with no consequences. The outcomes of these activities form the basis of ongoing real-world monitoring and scientific query. This requires teamwork, diligence, perseverance, and accuracy in documentation, alongside a good deal of coordination, facilitation, and ongoing auditing and validation by the KOPEL team. Programs are tweaked with more scientific theory input, or more practical activity, based on the schools and their desired student outcomes. Volunteers on the other hand, simply join the KOPEL team through the entire monitoring process.

For more information on getting involved in KOPEL’s environmental monitoring, volunteering or setting up a school or university program with KOPEL please feel free to contact KOPEL Office at +6089551070 or visit our Contact page.

[side note: For a tropical paradise like Borneo, situated N5° from the equator, and in a floodplain, life is adapted to the wet, all year round. In fact, what we call our dry season is not completely dry. During this season it still rains frequently, almost daily! In other words, the droughts we have experienced for up to 3 months without rain, have noticeable impacts on the surrounding habitat and on the wildlife species therein.]