Academics pool brainpower to combat algal invasion


Tasik Aman in Taman Aman park in Section 22, Petaling Jaya is a disused tin-mining pool. — FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

ONCE a place of leisure with a vibrant ecosystem, Petaling Jaya’s Tasik Aman is now a murky green expanse due to microalgae that has inundated the 2ha-wide lake.

Scientists from two separate universities are collaborating to gather data on the lake’s dynamics to find the reason for Tasik Aman’s decline.

By their detailed study of the factors affecting the lake’s health, they hope not only to save Tasik Aman but also establish a model for rehabilitating (or restoring) other freshwater ecosystems in the Klang Valley.

The project is spearheaded by a team drawn from Universiti Malaya (UM) and Monash University Malaysia.

Serving as project leaders are UM’s Department of Research Management social research officer Nuratiqah Mohamad Norpi along with her colleague research officer Chang Lee Wei, from the university’s Centre for Civilisational Dialogue (UMCCD).

Joining them are academics from Monash, including lecturers from its School of Science Dr Michelle Yap Khai Khun and Dr Faddrine Jang along with half a dozen others from UM.

The project is titled ‘Guarding Our Water Together: Unveiling the Hidden World of Water Security and Ecosystems.’

Nuratiqah and Chang have secured RM25,000 under the Petaling Jaya Social, Environment and Economy Development (SEED) Fund’s Safe and Resilient City category in December last year for the project.

Chang said the project came about after they were approached by Friends of Taman Aman (Fota) chairman Thayakugan Rajendram, to address the issues at the lake.

“Our major concern was the microalgae and rubbish surrounding the area,” he said.

(From left) Chang, Jang, Nuratiqah and Yap are the project leaders working to save Tasik Aman.(From left) Chang, Jang, Nuratiqah and Yap are the project leaders working to save Tasik Aman.

Chang said from their viewpoint, there was no continuous monitoring or assessment.

“Plastics in the form of debris and waste are harmful when they become a platform of attachment for pollutants and potentially pathogenic bacteria.

“We came up with the proposal to collect data on microalgae blooming, microplastic and heavy metal in the lake. Initially, our plan was to involve citizen scientists or Fota members to do basic water quality assessments using water quality test strips, but due to budget constraints we had to do away with this,” said Chang.

The ongoing water quality assessment at the Taman Aman Lake is being conducted by the project team.

“Since March, we have been collecting water samples on a fortnightly basis,” said Chang, adding that this would be done until August this year.

Yap said microalgae are microorganisms that existed in single cells, which start to form blooms of colonies in the lake, often because of environmental factors.

A researcher measuring dissolved oxygen levels with a multiparameter device.A researcher measuring dissolved oxygen levels with a multiparameter device.

“Our temperature makes it suitable for microalgae to grow. Tasik Aman has an ideal warm temperature for it to bloom.

“Due to the location itself, microalgae blooms are enhanced when a lot of nutrients come from the surrounding or the drainage system, which contributes to the pollution of the lake,” she said.

“Some microalgae are beneficial, yet some can be harmful and dangerous because they produce toxins,” she added.

In 2018, an Australian-based environmental technology company that carried out a lake remediation project at Tasik Aman found that the lake had eutrophication and foul odour emitted from the dead algae. (Eutrophication is a process where nutrients accumulate in a body of water, resulting in an increased growth of microorganisms that may deplete the water of oxygen).

The company also reported that constant input of organic matter to the lake in the form of grass clippings and leaves from the surrounding park, bread and other food used to feed the fishes in the lake as well as runoff from the storm drain during heavy rain combined with little water movement, had caused a persistent blue green algal bloom.

A general view of Taman Aman park.A general view of Taman Aman park.

Addressing contaminants

Yap said their preliminary data showed the lake contained Microcystis sp, an algal-bloom that is harmful to humans because it produced biotoxins that can be absorbed through the skin after direct contact with the lake water.

“These biotoxins can potentially damage your liver,” she said.

In late December last year, the Petaling Jaya City Council sent out a circular prohibiting fishing at all their lakes from Jan 1. The only exception was Taman Bandaran Kelana Jaya.

However, Chang said they saw some senior citizens fishing in Tasik Aman.

Water samples being collected at the lake.Water samples being collected at the lake.

“This is clearly dangerous. We are worried about the toxins in the lake,” he said.

The team is also focused on addressing the issue of other contaminants in the lake.

Meanwhile, Jang said contaminants and pollutants could attach to microplastics in water, especially in a lake like Taman Aman with limited outlet flow.

“In addition to the reports of irresponsible rubbish dumping into the drains that eventually flows into the lake, Tasik Aman could become a ‘sink’ or ‘pool’ to metal contamination or pollutants,” she said.

Jang said these microplastics would gradually sink to the bottom of the lake and occasionally, due to mechanical actions (rain, waves, or currents), they could re-release the metals back to the water column.

A close-up of the microalgae on the lake’s surface.A close-up of the microalgae on the lake’s surface.

“In the long run, this could create a toxic aquatic environment, unsuitable for human recreation as well as biodiversity of the lake itself,” she said.

The others involved in the project are UM Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences (IOES) research officer Dr Yeong Hui Yin, UM Department of Research Management research officer Azrin Md Kasim, UM Sustainable Development Centre (UMSDC) research officers Mohd Fadhli Rahmat Fakri and Affan Nasaruddin, UM STEM Centre research officer Norshahzila Idris and UM Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS) Faculty of Science lecturer Dr Nurzatil Sharleeza Mat Jalaluddin.

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Tasik Aman , Taman Aman , MBPJ , Petaling Jaya , SEED

   

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