ONE can say that limestone is almost synonymous with Ipoh.
At the mere mention of the two-syllable word, the popular cave temples and half-blasted hills along the North-South Expressway come to mind.
While one is a thing of wonder, the other is an eyesore. Recently, some amazing finds have also been rediscovered by a group of caving enthusiasts at Gunung Lanno, a limestone hill in Simpang Pulai.
These included beautiful scenery, animal fossils, geological wonders, wall paintings and remnants from the tin-mining era.
To caving enthusiasts, these should be protected as they have heritage, tourism and research values.
But all of the above are being threatened by rock-blasting activities at nearby quarries.
To the state government and quarry companies, limestone is a valuable commodity and the industry itself is a multi-million ringgit revenue generator.
Limestone, after being processed, is used in various industries but mainly for construction and as a chemical agent.
The calcium in the mineral, when purified, can be used in food and livestock feed.
It should be noted that some areas with limestone, like Simpang Pulai, have already been gazetted for quarry-based industries, which makes it hard for the state government to halt issuing permits to companies.
So how should the state and all the stakeholders move forward from here?
Realistically, it would be hard for quarry operations in Perak to be stopped as there would be financial and legal implications for the state government.
Perhaps the Mineral and Geoscience Department (JMG) could conduct a research on locations that have yet to be affected by quarry operations.
And should these locations have value and are worth preserving, the state government should be informed about it.
Caving enthusiast and non-governmental organisation Kinta Valley Watch representative Ching Boon Tat believes JMG has the responsibility to do research on these sites.
“We have already brought up some of these caves to their attention.
“And if these caves can be protected, they should make recommendations to the state for further action.
“If the department does not have sufficient data, they can refer to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and get information from there, ” he added.
Ching said there were still several caves in Gunung Lanno that could be preserved.
“Gunung Lanno is a huge area and there are still some caves that are worthy as research sites for researchers.
“I believe JMG does have a say and is in a position to give advice on whether rock-blasting permits should be issued for certain areas, ” he said.
For sites that can be preserved and protected, the sensible move is to gazette those for purposes other than mining.
There are other ways for Perak to generate revenue, namely tourism which will certainly help spur local businesses in the area.
At the end of the day, it is for the state government to decide which is more important — preservation of nature and heritage or generating more revenue in the short term for the state?