By Juliana Tang
Some weekends ago on Mantanani island, Arkitrek organized and hosted a knowledge exchange weekend among three island communities from around Sabah. The three were from Omadal island off Semporna, Maliangin island off Kudat and of course, the community of Mantanani itself. The main objectives of this weekend were to strengthen conservation initiatives on Mantanani island and to foster a support network amongst the communities involved.
“Community conservation what? Isn’t Arkitrek like, an architecture company?” Good question, comrade. Let’s rewind for a bit and go back to the beginning of how this all came about.
Arkitrek has been familiar with Mantanani since 2008 having been involved in the design and construction of a few buildings on the island. In the recent years, Mantanani island has experienced a boom in mass tourism with an average of 800-1000 tourists coming into the island per day. There are 2 villages on the island with 1,500 inhabitants, and the main water source for all these thousands of people? Groundwater.
Here is a quick look at what’s going on with the water situation:
As you can see very obviously from the above illustration, the overwhelming increase of people on the small island measuring 3km X 1km and their need for water could cause this precious resource to diminish slowly. And leading up to that will be the deterioration of groundwater quality.
So enter Arkitrek in late 2012 with our groundwater conservation project that is intent on preserving this important resource. For the past 2 years, we have been working very closely with the wonderful community on Mantanani island to monitor the quality of the groundwater as well as run a myriad of awareness activities, the knowledge exchange weekend being one such.
Santai Di Pantai (“Chilling by the beach”) was a way of engaging the community indirectly in the scheme of conservation. The Mantanani islanders have been trying to set up a co-op for awhile now which has been met with hurdles; island politics, lack of trust, own people support – all of which are typical in any kind of community/organization. So we figured that by inviting other communities of similar background to share their experiences setting up organizations that in turn fund their own conservation projects, it might help the people of Mantanani achieve the same success.
The weekend started with each community presenting on their conservation work. While our local Mantanani researchers are well versed in groundwater conservation, both Omadal and Maliangin have unique ways of running their marine projects. Both communities operate thriving handicraft businesses that supplement their alternative livelihood as well as fund their conservation activities that range from island patrolling to stop turtle egg stealing, to the zoning of fishing areas around the island. [On a side note: It was very interesting to observe how, once upon a time, the community on Omadal were ignorant to the detrimental effects of consuming turtle eggs, but with the formation of WAPO (Women of Pulau Omadal), the members of the organization themselves have become the biggest champions of turtle conservation on the island.]
This was followed by the next full day of handicraft workshop facilitated by the WAPO group and Maliangin Community Association (MICA).
Yea, so we faced a few bumps putting the weekend together. The district police decided to hold a long talk about public safety (inspired by the recent kidnapping events on the East Coast, no doubt) on the same day at the same place, our field officer forgot to order drinks for lunch, the participation in our discussion session did not reach the vigorous enthusiasm as we’d expected… But the smaller group who showed up for our session were community members who were interested in preserving the island, we had drinks brought in at the last minute and we learnt to keep the next discussion more informal and less CNN. So it all turned out beautifully in the end.
The weekend resulted in three very positive outcomes:
One is that we were contacted by the tireless chairman of MICA, Aziz, who asked if we could help set up our groundwater conservation project on Tigabu island, also close to Kudat. The youth club of Tigabu had heard of our project through Aziz and was interested in replicating it.
Second is that the women who were most enthusiastic have expressed intention in starting up a collective handicraft business of their own which we intend to help them with in our capacity.
And the third is this!
Big thanks to WAPO, MICA, WWF, Reefcheck and of course our amazing community researcher without whom we would not have managed to run this project for so long. We have hopes that when the co-op is up and running, the community of Mantanani would continue with the groundwater monitoring and awareness activities on their own initiative. Till then, we’ll still be drinking fresh groundwater while enjoying the view from our Mantanani office.