Youths are empowered to exchange ideas, develop leadership capabilities and drive solutions for issues.
CLEANING up the mess left by others may be one way to save the environment, but Muhammad Adzmin Ab Fatta recognises there are more sustainable ways of getting the job done.
With Asean’s threatened mangroves on his mind, Muhammad Adzmin is bent on educating the public to stop causing harm to these fragile ecosystems in the first place.
Last December, he launched #Mangrove4U.
“It is one of the initiatives under the Project Rebuilding Asean Wall or simply known as Project RAW,” says the 23-year-old project leader from Semporna, Sabah.
Muhammad Adzmin chose Pulau Omadal, located off Semporna, on the eastern coast of Sabah, as the launch point for #Mangrove4U. He plans to replicate the project throughout Asean with the experience he gained from Pulau Omadal, populated mainly by the Bajau.
His vision for mangroves was given a huge boost when he was recognised as one of the few promising young leaders by the Young Southeasat Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), a three-year-old effort by the American government.
The inspiration for #Mangrove4U came when he attended the YSEALI Generation Ocean Workshop in Jakarta last March.
There, he says, he realised how interconnected the mangroves are with the marine ecosystem, and how important it is to preserve them.
“They may look like other trees, but they are very unique and highly important in their own way. “Mangroves are the feeding, breeding, and nursery grounds of many different flora and fauna meaning they’re home to both marine and terrestrial wildlife,” he says, adding that mangroves are “coastal protectors”.
“It has been proven in some Southeast Asian countries that the presence of mangroves has reduced the impact of natural disasters such as typhoons and storm surges. Also, mangrove forests are the most efficient carbon sink compared to other vegetation,” he says.
He says this is because mangrove forests absorb and store a large amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, effectively making them key weapons in the war against global warming.
“Sadly mangroves are now in danger of extinction due to coastal and unsustainable development, aquaculture industry and human disturbance.”
Muhammad Adzmin’s teammates include Herminatalia Tabar, 26, Sumira Muis, 23, Fazlan Thomas, 28, Masmeera Jimlan, 22, and Rahim Wahab, 24.
As the project leader, Muhammad Adzmin says it was up to him to coordinate the project and meet with the relevant stakeholders, including government agencies like the Forestry Department to gather support and funding.
“I also volunteered my time to coordinate all the social media campaigns and fundraising to raise more awareness and support from the public. I also try and create a network with youth leaders in Semporna, especially those living in the mangrove areas, to be part of this initiative, and eventually lead it,” he says.
However, educating the community proved to be more difficult than he envisaged. Not only did his team have to fully understand the facts, they also had to translate all the content to Bajau, the main language spoken by the Semporna community.
Muhammad Adzmin says he joined YSEALI because it gave him a great platform for networking and for advocating his Semporna project.
He joined the network last year and has attended the YSEALI Generation Ocean Workshop and YSEALI Sea and Earth Advocates SEA Camp in the Philippines.
“Joining YSEALI give you more opportunity to meet new inspiring people, exchange ideas and learn about cultures, develop leadership capabilities, and drive solutions for related issues.”
Browsing the internet for fun soon led Karyshma Gill, 19, into an advocate for forests. Luckily for her, the teenager from Ipoh stumbled upon the YSEALI website, and quicky found herself accepted as a participant.
Following her participation in the workshops of the programme, she came up with “Save our Forests”, an idea that took her into Johor’s Pulau Kukup forest reserve with three participants and many volunteers.
There, they spent an entire day planting mangrove seedlings and cleaning up the area, other than visiting a nearby fishing village to understand the role of mangroves in the villagers’ lives.
She says coming up with the project idea was the easy part and took only about an hour.
But solving the practical challenges, including logistics, was something they were “sorely unprepared for”.
Karyshma says while she has always been an outdoor person, she was surprised to learn that not many city-folk appreciated the value of the natural environment.
“This project was my way of opening the eyes of the participants’ to the importance of nature. I think all of us generally have this idea to make a positive impact, but we often let our fear of failure hold us back.
“Through YSEALI and its network, I have met a lot of inspiring people who do their best to make a positive change, no matter the scale, in their communities and this has motivated me to try my best to improve the world around me, even if it is by a simple act of kindness. YSEALI has constantly allowed me to explore my boundaries, learn new things and challenge my existing perspectives,” she says.
Keeping oceans clean
When we think of plastics floating in the ocean, we picture plastic bags, bins and bottles. Yet, many fail to realise that there is another less visible form of plastic pollutant in the water: microplastics.
Knowing the danger posed by this form of pollution led Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) postgraduate student Ecklyn Fok Fei Mei to launch her YSEALI-funded project called ‘Let’s CleanUp’ campaign.
“Let’s CleanUp is mainly focused on microplastic pollution awareness and its impact on coral reefs,” says the 26-year-old who roped in 90 other fellow students as team members after attending a YSEALI workshop last March.
In collaboration with UMT’s Marine Science Club, Let’s CleanUp was launched in the campus on Dec 3.
She also had help from UMT marine biology student Tang Wai Kit who prepared different types of microplastic samples taken from coral reefs, as well as examples of microbead-containing personal care products.
To sustain the level of motivation among the volunteers, the team would send out messages reminding the volunteers how their little contributions such as picking up trash and avoiding microbead-containing products could make a difference in protecting the ocean.
Ecklyn says YSEALI encourages and empowers youths to take action within their own capabilities.
“Throughout the training in YSEALI workshop, I gained plenty of valuable advice and alternative routes in tackling conservation issues via actions and campaigns from experienced leaders before launching Let’s CleanUp.”
The workshop also allowed her to widen her network and exchange the ideas among delegates in order to expand marine conservation efforts. Not only that, she met three others from Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam to form Asean CoralRanger project.
“We decided to start from a small workshop and campaign to address the marine critical issues, such as coral reef conservation and microplastic pollution. We hope that people working in different fields can create positive changes and raise awareness of critical issues that we are facing.”
To quote Ryunosuke Satoro, ‘Individually, we are one drop. But together, we are an ocean’.”