KUALA LANGAT, Sept 25 — Worlds away from the skyscrapers and the bustling city, there is a serene place known as the Sijangkang Mangrove Recreational Park, which will leave you with a sense of being rejuvenated.
What was once a site plagued by illegal dumping, this ecological gem has undergone a remarkable transformation, now flourishing as a vibrant mangrove forest that pulsates with diverse life forms.
Thanks to the collective endeavours of Kampung Sijangkang villagers, together with support from the relevant authorities, companies and institutions of higher learning (IPTs), the mangrove forest, has been artfully restored to its natural state, with a specific focus on nurturing mangroves.
The Sijangkang ecopark is richly blessed with 15 types of mangrove species, and some of the mangrove trees here could be more than 100 years old. The mangrove area located next to Sungai Langat is popular among those who enjoy the beauty of nature. Many species of flora and fauna surround this route.
Once here, the peaceful sounds of the river and the serene beauty of the flowing water could easily transport you to a place of calm and tranquility. At the same time, the spectacle of birds flying across the skies was an enchanting sight to behold.
With the most inspiring views, it is little wonder that the Sijangkang Mangrove Recreational Park has been captivating nature adventure aficionados, birdwatchers, private companies and learning institutions since it was opened to the public at end-2015.
At one corner, a group of visitors of various age groups were on a mangrove boardwalk through the jungle. The 1.8- kilometre boardwalk allows jungle trekkers to experience the sight, smell, sound and tranquility of nature.
“It is a favourite haunt among Sijangkang residents and other jungle trekkers, and for married couples who love adventures and outdoors, doing their photo shoot surrounded by nature would be a perfect choice; it is also a popular spot for those into ‘OOTD’ (an acronym used among social media influencers which means ‘Outfit of the Day’),” Sijangkang Community Head, Mohd Suhaimi Sanusi told Bernama recently.
The Kampung Sijangkang Community was set up at the initiative of a group of 15 people led by Mohd Suhaimi, who works as a petty trader, to maintain cleanliness of the village including the mangrove forest areas.
Sprawling across 24 hectares of land, the park is located southwest of Selangor. It is situated about two km at the fringes of Kampung Sijangkang, Telok Panglima Garang and about 12 km from Klang to Banting in Kuala Langat.
From wasteland to wetland
Mohd Suhaimi said the then landfill site in Sijangkang had been amassing tonnes of refuse over the years, with the situation worsening since early 2015 as wastes were not only generated from local residents, but also from manufacturing operations.
Recalling the dark episodes, he said several dumpsites could be seen along the six-km route to the mangrove forest, leaving a 50 ft long pile up of rubbish.
“In the village, there was no waste disposal management system as in the city, hence some folks buried the rubbish within their own premises or burn them and some residents on the fringes of the village dumped trash here.
“The scale of the mess at the landfill site was not as high as some villagers would burn them when it had reached an alarming level. The situation took a turn for the worse when the bins were overflowing with black rubbish bags full of junk, leaving the area stinking, and stray animals roving in packs and foraging for food.
“This situation posed a threat to children or senior citizens in the area as it was filled with hundreds of scattered nails, unutilised wood as well as bricks from the construction site, with high risk of being attacked by stray dogs,” he said.
At the height of the crisis, Mohd Suhaimi together with other villagers called on the Kuala Langat Municipal Council (MPKL) to provide a sustainable solid waste management system and expressed concerns over the rampant illegal dumping from the construction sector.
Following their complaints, several cleaning up operations were undertaken by the local authority, but this was not sustainable as illegal waste dumping was still rife due to lack of monitoring.
With no end in sight to resolving the crisis, Mohd Suhaimi who has been staying there for over 35 years, decided to mobilise the village community against illegal dumping activities in their area in addition to campaigning against illicit felling of mangrove trees.
No mean feat
“As the ‘mountains of garbage’ piled high at the sprawling dumpsite which was further aggravated by the absence of proper waste disposal, lightweight rubbish could easily be dispersed into the surrounding environment by wind and rain; some were trapped in the roots of mangrove trees, others reached Sungai Langat, giving rise to pollution and affecting the people’s source of livelihood.
“As an immediate measure, we began to mobilise our community of 15 volunteers by cleaning up the area on a gotong-royong basis throughout August, 2015 and with close cooperation with the villagers and the local autorhity, we managed to make a significant change there,” he said.
However, the father of six admitted that the journey to develop Kampung Sijangkang into an ecotourism destination was no mean feat; it was peppered with many bumps and pitfalls, including sarcasms from some local folks as well as the difficulties in getting their cooperation to clean up the village.
“But I believe in hard work and patience which are the two cornerstones for being successful. Albeit the trials and tribulations, we managed to win over sceptical residents, and managed to instil awareness among the people on the importance of preserving the natural environment as it helps them to lead healthy lives through recreational activities while improving their socio-economic wellbeing,” he said.
In fact, Mohd Suhaimi pointed out that the local community did not expect their earlier efforts at mitigating the illegal dumping menace had positive spill-over effects on their economy, given that the mangrove forest of Kampung Sijangkang, is fast gaining traction among tourists, both locally and abroad.
Known as edu-recreation park
Since its opening at end-2015, the recreational park started to attract companies especially on weekends through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes by systematically planting mangrove trees while schools and IPTs would usually organise mangrove forest educational activities on weekdays.
In fact, this area is also a choice among several local and foreign IPTs to undertake mangrove forest studies; this development augured well for the local people’s economy with some residents showing their interest in becoming community volunteers of Kampung Sijangkang.
Given the growing interest towards the site, he said the community expects it to be known as an edu-ecotourism park, noting that it is also collaborating with several local IPTs to upgrade the infrastructure and knowledge on mangrove forests which can be used during educational programmes with visitors.
“We have also entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Universiti Putra Malaysia(UPM), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) and they also have several laboratories here.
“For example, we are also working with UPM and the Forestry Department to develop a barcode to be placed on mangrove trees to allow visitors to know the green trees here through scanning the barcode with their smart phone,” he said.
Following the positive development, many villagers were drawn into joining the initiative, bringing the total number of volunteers to 40 from 15 previously, comprising various age groups including school leavers and IPTs.
Reflecting the camaraderie spirit, team members went all out to ensure their village was free of illegal dumping by undertaking cleaning and monitoring efforts while there were others who served as tourist guides in addition to providing educational talks on the importance of preserving mangrove forests for tourists.
To add value to the recreation park, several facilities and activities were provided including traditional sports, camp sites, catching snails in the mangrove forest, fishing (on request) besides jungle trekking and photo opportunities.
“To reach this far, many quarters extended their support, including the MPKL as well as contributions from companies and IPTs in the ecosystem restoration here as well as beautifying the mangrove forest areas and realising our aspiration of branding the park as an edu-recreation park for all.
“MPKL has been supportive of our efforts through various initiatives in promoting this area as an edu-ecotourism park among travel agencies,” he added.
Local and international recognition
After seven years of hard work, the area, which previously earned notoriety as an infamous waste disposal site, has been transformed into an eco-friendly park to be reckoned with, especially after receiving various recognitions, both locally and abroad.
Among its accolades, the park has received the ‘Friends of River for Selangor’ award from the Selangor Water Management Authority (Luas), Green Initiative Awards: Sijangkang Mangrove Edu-Recreation Park- ‘From Wasteland to Wonderland’ from MPKL as the platinum winner for the outdoor public park as well as international recognition from Japan-Asean Integration Fund (JAIF) and the Institute of Global Environment Strategies (IGES).
“While these awards are non-monetary, they are highly appreciated as they serve as catalysts to motivate various parties to help us by allocating their resources, time or financial contributions,” he added.
However, the real success according to Mohd Suhaimi lies with the gotong-royong spirit and sheer determination among the local villagers as well as the civic-minded and environmentally-conscious tourists who helped preserve the natural environment at the park.
On that note, Mohd Suhaimi expressed hope that the government would continue extending its support for the local community’s initiatives in conserving and restoring mangrove forests, not only in Sijangkang but also in other areas, through financial allocations.
“During our talks, many who were new to the place could not believe that the Sijangkang park was once an illegal waste disposal site. Thanks to the community’s commitment to sustainability, local issues could be amicably and speedily resolved,” he shared.
Meanwhile, Dr A. Aldrie Amir, a mangrove ecologist by training and Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow at the Institute for Environment and Development (Lestari) of UKM, said mangrove forests, which form their own ecosystem, provide ideal breeding grounds for other species such as fish, shrimp, crabs and other shellfish.
Taking the Kampung Sijangkang community as an example, he said their exemplary efforts should be emulated by others, noting that government involvement in joint preservation and restoration efforts with the community as undertaken by the Forestry Department would be a step in the right direction.
Aldrie, who is also the Malaysian Mangrove Research Alliance & Network (MyMangrove) Coordinator, said it is crucial for the community to be actively involved in protecting and conserving the mangrove forest, given that the majority of the population relies on fishing as their economic mainstay.
At the same time, the surroundings of a mangrove forest create a productive ecosystem, allowing a healthy food chain to take place and contributing to biodiversity for both land and marine species, he said, adding that mangroves serve to protect communities from major storms and strong waves.
“Usually, mangrove forest areas are gazetted as forest reserves or protected forests while the Forestry Department undertakes monitoring. However, the local community, who are not directly involved in its implementation, could serve as the eyes and ears of the government.
“Kampung Sijangkang has come a long way, from an illegal dumpsite due to improper waste management – as it was then regarded as a wasteland rather than a wetland – to what it is today; success would not have been possible without the collective endeavours of the local community,” he said.