RCUK-SEA Identifying trade-offs of changing land use for aquatic environmental and socio-economic health and facilitating sustainable solutions

Lead Research Organisation: National Oceanography Centre
Department Name: Science and Technology


The economies of Southeast Asian countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines), and hence living standards of people living in this region, are intimately coupled to the ocean which is a valuable source of protein via fisheries and income via tourism. Many of these regions also contain valuable natural resources in the shape of forests and peatland which can be harvested for timber, converted to agricultural systems and which store carbon thus regulating the composition of our atmosphere and reducing the rate of global warming. Working out best how to extract resources from terrestrial systems with minimal impact on the coastal systems that they are linked to via rivers is an enormous challenge; logging and land clearance leads to soils entering rivers and coastal waters, changing their transparency, altering fisheries and ultimately losing carbon to the atmosphere. What is needed to understand the best way to manage these competing pressures on the natural environment is information about how it functions and about how the communities which use these systems will respond to likely changes. Putting together the natural scientists who think about soils, forests and rivers with those social scientists who understand what drives people to make the decisions about how they live their lives that they make is a massive challenge. However unless we do this we will only understand one half of the problem. In this project we will therefore both sample coastal waters and rivers in western Borneo to assess their functioning and health and assess the needs of the local communities via questionnaires and interviews. We will put these two halves of the project together via a series of workshops which we believe will better help Malaysia cope with environmental change and manage their natural resources in a sustainable manner. Key elements of the project involve sampling a range of disturbed and Undisturbed rivers and coastal waters, working out the key processes which lead to the loss of soil into the Marine environment, what happens to it and how it affects the ecosystem and looking at how these processes have changed over time and how people's exploitation of coastal espouses have evolved in parallel.

Planned Impact

The project will generate information of relevance to a range of non-academic constituencies including:
1/ The general public of Malaysia, particularly residents of the affected areas and those dependent on the resources, ecosystems services and livelihoods they provide;
2/ Official bodies with environmental resource management responsibilities, such as the Department of Irrigation and Drainage Sarawak (http://www.did.sarawak.gov.my/);
3/ Land users and relevant industries such as the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (http://www.palmoilworld.org/index.html);
4/ NGOs such as the Wildlife Conservation Society (https://www.wcs.org/) and those concerned with the application of scheme such as REDD+;
5/ The International Panel on Climate Change.
Direct engagement with local communities will be an intrinsic party of our study as mediated by the Vulnerability Assessment. As such we will contact local village long house leaders and village councils to obtain relevant permissions. An important part of this aspect of the study will be to explain the purpose and ultimately the findings of our research, thus also serving as a mechanism of outreach and engagement. All communication will be carefully planned and executed in a culturally appropriate manner, for example enlisting speakers of local dialects. A key aspect of the project is the stakeholder engagement programme, which when executed, will provide the primary means of realizing our study's impact. The first step of this programme is the development of a plan by which to identify appropriate stakeholders, and determine the purpose, means and aims of engaging them to ensure that maximum socioeconomic benefit is generated from the project, both in terms of safeguarding the local environment, and also enabling commercial activity to continue in a sustainable manner. To ensure this generates the maximum impact possible, expert knowledge has been recruited to assist in drafting the plan in the form of Mr Kevin Forshaw, Associate Director of Innovation and Enterprise, and Ms Lucy Calvert, Head of Communications and member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (both NOC), as well as the Research and Innovation Programme Manager at the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, Ms Izza Ismail. In developing the plan we will follow the guidelines laid down by NERC on influencing international policy making and best practices for working with and through other stakeholders. We will also adhere to NERC's guidelines on maintaining impartiality and will resist any attempts made by stakeholders to enlist our support in lobbying activities. It is anticipated that a range of stakeholder engagement strategies will be employed but the main vehicle will be face-to-face meetings where targeted, succinct information will be presented in a culturally appropriate manner which could not be construed to contain any political bias. When engaging potentially politically sensitive stakeholders the onus will be placed on working in collaboration. Thus as the project evolves we will seek to assist in the development and trial of mitigation strategies, which even if results are not forth coming at these preliminary stages, will help to foster trust and facilitate future projects in partnership with commercial ventures. As part of the culmination of the project when the data sets are finalized we aim to host a number of larger scale events in the form of receptions. The aim is to present our project in a manner which promotes credibility and prestige in those stakeholders attending. The receptions themselves will provide a mean by which the scientific information gathered can be presented in an accessible and engaging way. Our primary means of engaging the IPCC will be via providing data potentially able to inform and thereby improve Earth Systems Models which will be conducted as detailed in Academic Beneficiaries.


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Description Clearing of peat swamp forest to make way for Palm Oil cultivation in South East Asia influences the biogeochemistry of the rivers draining the perturbed catchments. Specifically carbon and sediment loads are elevated by the erosion of soils, which is promoted by the draining of the swamp landscape involved in preparing the land for agricultural activity. This leads to the release of carbon, previously sequestered in the soils, which then move into the oceanic and atmospheric pools. Erosion of peat swamp soils into rivers also alters their socioeconomic value by decreasing their quality as fisheries habitats and as a source of potable water and a resource for washing. However, attitudes of the individuals resident in the communities indigenous to, and dependent on, the rivers, were that the financial gains yielded by agriculture outweighed the negative environmental impact. Litter was generally of much higher concern to residents and specifically the impact of plastics. Throughout the project stakeholders were engaged in the project, raising awareness, and highlighting the need to policy makers to weigh short terms gains against longer term losses when formulating management plans of river catchments.
Exploitation Route The findings of this funding award are being integrated into local governmental policy in Sarawak to promote holistic environmental management, the importance of citizean science and the need for an increased understanding of this region's role in regulation of the earth system.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description An extensive stakeholder engagement programme has been implemented to disseminate the scientific results found. Elements of the programme targeted governmental, commercial and societal groups. To date most impact has been achieved through educational spin off activities in local riparian based communities which target school children and adult community members as to the detriment of solid household waste disposal directly into aquatic bodies.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal

Description Formal audience with Minister for Education, Science and Technological Research Sarawak
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Our participation in formal policy request to develop a dedicated oceanographic research centre in Sarawak Malaysia, will ultimately enhance local research and education, informing policy making on management of natural resources and climate change preparedness.
Description Informing integrated coastal zone management in Belize to build resilience and sustainable blue economy, public health and livelihoods
Amount £600,000 (GBP)
Organisation Government of the UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 03/2020
Title River Vulnerability Assessment Tool 
Description The River Vulnerability Assessment Tool (RVAT) synthesizes field observation, engagement with local communities via one to one interviews and focus-group discussions to determine the exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capability of the river based communities. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Application of the RVAT to the Sarawakian river communities in Borneo has highlighted the tension between financial benefits of land use change from peatland swamp forest to palm oil cultivation to the harmful impacts on the freshwater systems. Specifically the detriment to fisheries outputs was weighed as an expectable sacrifice. The RVAT has highlighted the vulnerability of the local communities and it's outputs have been presented to local resource managers and policy makers to promote sustainability in the region. 
Description Session convener Newton - Ungku Omar at Malaysia's International Conference On Marine Science and Aquaculture 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Session convener Newton - Ungku Omar at Malaysia's International Conference On Marine Science and Aquaculture. The session provided a platform to communicate the findings of our Newton Project to national and international delegates. It improved understanding in related science disciplines, strengthened our existing international collaborations and allowed us to make new ones.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.ums.edu.my/ipmbv2/icomsa/index.html
Description Stakeholder Engagement: Land to Rivers Sarawak 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A workshop was held targeted to NGOs, CSO, local governemnt to highlight the importance of an holistic view of environmental management and the trade offs of certain environmental management strategies in roverine environments.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Talk at Malaysia's International Conference On Marine Science and Aquaculture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk summarising the objectives and findings to date of the our Newton Project. This improved general understanding of the project and the related science. It also fostered greater collaboration with researchers in SE Asia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Workshop on Analaytical Methods in Aquatic Biogeochemistry 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact An international workshop was held at NOC to educate colleagues from collaborative programmes in Singapore, Malaysia, Belize, and vartious countries throughout Africa. The programme emcopassed training and capcity building in traditional and cutting-edge technologies and approaches to study the aquatic environment, with specific reference to biogeochemistry. The workshop also sought to build a truly global network and seek commonalities in obstacles to sustainable development and challenges faced in environmental study and management. Those who participated gained improved understanding of how they may overcome the challenges they faced i
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018