THE renowned second largest freshwater lake in the country - Lake Chini - is having a slow death as a result of human activities.
Environmentalists and conservationists have long expressed their concern and urged the authorities to step up efforts to preserve the lake.
Among one of the vocal personalities who consistently champion the issue was the late Bishan Singh.
As the then president of Sustainable Development Network (Susden) Malaysia, he spearheaded a campaign called “Save Tasik Chini.”
Many quarters started to chip in due to his persistent calls to rehabilitate the lake, once bountiful with the wondrous sight of lotuses in full bloom and fishes such as arowana and giant featherback.
It is due to this that DiGi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd initiated a project aptly named “The Champion of Pahang’s Lake Chini.”
The project saw some 80 secondary students from Kuantan and Pekan taking part in several activities as part of a crusade to save Lake Chini.
Launched in March last year, the project came to an end recently, albeit without the person who had started it all.
Bishan Singh died on Nov 29 last year after a short illness. He was 62.
His efforts did not go unnoticed as DiGi’s had named him as one of its “Amazing Malaysians” for the year 2006.
Present during the closing ceremony were Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob, DiGi’s head of human resources Adzhar Ibrahim and DiGi’s head of strategy and corporate affairs Tunku Alizakri Raja Muhammad Alias.
In his speech, Adnan stressed the importance of working together to preserve and maintain the country’s natural heritage.
“We are very proud of our natural heritage and will continue with the on-going efforts to preserve our forests, beaches and lakes.
“But the responsibility of heritage preservation must not fall upon the state government alone.
“We need the support and cooperation from the private sector, non-governmental organisations and most importantly, the public,” he said.
Adnan said DiGi’s efforts was a step in the right direction and urged other firms to emulate the initiative.
Later, the dignitaries were taken on a tour of the Save Tasik Chini Centre located in Kampung Puput, in which all research materials, bro-chures, videos, photographs, website and artworks by the participants would be kept for reference.
The centre was also one of Bishan Singh’s aspirations to add educational value to visitors of the lake and to empower the local community of about 1,000 Jakun community to turn the lake into an eco-village.
Sunitha Bishan Gunasegaran represented her father during the centre’s opening and received a plaque to commemorate his past contributions.
“My father always believed in nurturing a caring leader. He saw the potential of creating 80 sustainable development leaders of the future in this project.
“He also believed very strongly in the need to educate the public. The only way to achieve a meaningful change is by creating awareness of the issues via education,” she said.
Adzhar said they chose Kampung Puput as the location for the centre as the village was the social, economic and spiritual heart of the Jakun community.
“Although the lake is now dying, we can all work together to rehabilitate the surroundings,” he said, adding that the centre would become the “pulse of the community” and the focus of efforts to save the lake.
The guests were also taken on a boat ride around the lake, guided by the participants, who explained the fragile ecosystem and the possible reasons behind its deterioration.
Over the past months, the participants had spent time to learn about the legends of the lake and expose themselves to the culture and customs of the Jakun community who have settled around the lake for many generations.
The participants were from four selected schools namely SM Ahmad and SM Paloh Hinai, both in Pekan, SM Sultan Abu Bakar and SM Abdul Rahman Talib in Kuantan.
They were divided into three groups to study the flora and fauna in Tasik Chini, to collect information on the legends of the lake and to document the way of life of the Jakun community.
Some of them were taught videography techniques to produce a documentary on Tasik Chini and its inhabitants, in addition to contributing contents for a website on the once-renowned lake.
A participant of the project Wan Azman Wan Abdullah, 17, said among the reasons for the lake’s deteriorating condition were the usage of pesticides and fertilisers in plantation, sewage discharge and erosion.
Another participant Puknima Dewi Ranga-nathan, 17, concurred: “Today, the water in the lake is so polluted that it is no longer safe for consumption.
“Even the number of fishes are dwindling, posing a threat to the existence of the Jakun community.”