Two years ago, if you had taken a stroll along Sungai Kayu Ara near PPR (People’s Housing Project) Lembah Subang in Petaling Jaya, you would have had the delight of meeting a family of five wild otters residing there.
Today, thanks to Fuze Ecoteer, a social enterprise focused on conservation founded in 2011, there are 15 wild otters happily frolicking in the river.
Fuze Ecoteer, which is also a registered tour operator with conservation and research experience, has been organising volunteer clean-up activities every Wednesday at wildlife-rich Sungai Kayu Ara since Aug 2020 to help reduce the amount of waste.
Littering and illegal dumpsites contribute to the waste that pollutes the river, endangering both the environment and the animals that live there.
“We can make a change and nature will come back. We just need to learn to respect and live with nature,” says Daniel Quilter, Fuze Ecoteer’s general manager.
Based in Shah Alam, Selangor, Fuze Ecoteer was one of the 10 winners of the Star Golden Hearts Award (SGHA) in 2020.
Since winning the RM5,000 award prize, the Fuze Ecoteer team has been busy with their conservation and rehabilitation work at the river and also in Pulau Perhentian, Terengganu, where the organisation was born.
The social enterprise has three conservation projects on the island, which focus on sea turtle conservation, marine research, and waste management and eco-education.
For starters, the prize money was used in the Sungai Kayu Ara clean-up and recycling efforts. Over 10 metric tonnes of waste (textile, plastic, carpet, bunting and more) were collected from the river and Pulau Perhentian.
In addition, under their Anak Pulau programme, they have trained three of the village youth from Kampung Pasir Hantu at Pulau Perhentian to scuba dive and help with conservation actions.
The key, says Quilter, is to start them young. This is part of Fuze Ecoteer’s ethos, to not only groom leaders but try and rope in members of the community as part of their long-term conservation plans, and offer education and alternative sources of income.
This includes getting the local children involved in beach clean-ups and offering lessons about corals to encourage an interest in preserving the environment.
“Conservation is 98% about working with people. Conservation should be renamed; (it’s about) managing people and not ecosystems or animals. So (it involves) educating and then working with interested people,” Quilter, 40, offers.
“My tip to any budding conservationists is to start with education and try to find that one person, work with them and as you get results, other people will show interest. Start small but dream big.
“Because we have trained the three youths under Anak Pulau, others have seen them helping with the work and now want to join as well. I always say don’t force it, most people are not ready,” he adds.
Besides the Anak Pulau programme, Fuze Ecoteer is also currently working with Reef Check Malaysia, the Fisheries Department and the stakeholders of Pulau Perhentian to develop a participatory management plan for the marine park.
Quilter recommends a voluntourism vacation for those who are becoming more aware of the global environmental crisis and are contemplating participating in conservation efforts.
“Or volunteer with an NGO or social enterprise and see what it’s like on the ground. Make some friends and probably get some exercise done. Try it once, you may just like it,” he says.
Moving forward, Quilter dreams of “developing and helping a group of social enterprises, all self-sustainable, to make impacts locally and globally”.
“Social enterprises are the future,” he stresses.