Officials fret over foreign aquatic plant

KOTA KINABALU: Agricultural officials are worried that an aquatic plant native to South America can be ordered from the Internet and brought into the state, which could adversely affect the environment.

An online store is selling the plant which can be used as an ornament in aquariums.

Sabah Agriculture Department director Idrus Shafie said they were concerned that people from the state could order the plant and inadvertently release it to the environment.

“When that happens, the plant could spread rapidly in the absence of any animals that would consume it,” he said but declined to name the plant for fear that it might encourage people to check it out online.

As it is, the department is already battling the spread of the water fern Salvinia molesta that is choking and drying up dozens of lakes and ponds around Sabah, he added.

Researchers believe that this plant, which is also native to South America, was brought into Sabah to dress up aquariums and some were discarded into the environment, causing it to spread rapidly.

Idrus said the department had intercepted many plants that were being brought into Sabah without any permits.

“Those bringing the plants should have known better as they are educated.

“But they are not agriculturists. They hid the plants in their luggage and tried to bring them in,” he said.

He recalled that a person once even tried to smuggle in a musang king durian sapling complete with soil.

“The soil could contain diseases that could spread quickly in our environment, so that’s a no-no,” he added.

Idrus said many people also assumed that they were allowed to bring in plants from the peninsula or even Labuan.

“They need to have permits to bring in any kind of live plant from outside of Sabah,” he said, adding that the department will not hesitate to seize any plants being brought into the state illegally.

In a report in The Star yesterday, the department said to tackle the problem of the Salvinia molesta, it brought in more than 350 of the Cyrtobagous salviniae weevils from Melaka last year and has been breeding these insects at its research centre in Tuaran and at the Tungog oxbow lake in the Kinabatangan.

The weevils originally from Australia were used by authorities to control a similar infestation of the water ferns in the peninsula in the 1980s.

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