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Research and NGOs: Reaching out with GIS

Bhanu Rekha
Bhanu Rekha
Associate Editor
Email: [email protected]
Having woken up to the significance of geospatial databases, research community in Malaysia is gearing up to adopt and adapt to these technologies. Forest Research Institute, a reputed centre for tropical forestry research with more than 100 years of experience in forestry and forest product research started using geospatial technologies in biodiversity conservation and research on climate change. Says Dr Shamsudin Ibrahim, Director, Forestry Division, “We realised the importance of geospatial databases late. Though on a modest scale, we started adopting latest technologies like LiDAR and hyperspectral imaging that suit conservation efforts.”

For the conservation of sensitive habitats, the habitat is first surveyed, demarcated, each tree in the habitat mapped, a spatial database prepared and report sent to forest department responsible for monitoring the habitat. “Our work involves lot of ground survey to identify the habitat. Satellite imagery is not always suitable. So we use laser survey techniques, which are quite precise. We also use hyperspectral imaging to pinpoint a particular species of trees for conservation purposes.”

Using geospatial technologies apart, the Institute is also realising the importance of integrating all its spatial databases. Says Shamsuddin, “At the moment we are project based and individual scientists keep the data. But we are beginning to realise the importance of information sharing. We are developing metadata for our databases and giving access to the same.”

The National Hydraulic Research Institute of Malaysia (NAHRIM), a premier research and consultancy centre for water and environment management, is using geospatial technologies extensively in six of its research divisions that include water resources, coastal management, geohydrology, ICT, hydraulic and instrumentation laboratory and river management. The Institute is currently working on the ambitious Integrated River Basin Management project along with the Department of Irrigation and Drainage to manage the natural resources of Malaysia on a long-term and sustainable basis.

According to Sahibi bin Mokhtar, Research Officer, the Institute gets base data on contour, topography and cadastral data from JUPEM, JMG and MaCGDI without any hassles. Here too, the spatial databases built are project based and adhoc to each of its division though the Institute is trying to integrate all the databases during the 10th Master Plan.

Research facilities in geomatics are abound in Malaysia. The Institute for Geo-Spatial Science and Technology (INSTEG) at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia offers consultation and research support services to community agencies. The Institute’s services include research methodology, data acquisition, data analysis and deliverable ‘products & services’ in geotechnology. INSTEG laboratories are equipped with specialised hardware for field data acquisition, processing and analysis in various geomatics disciplines like hydrographic surveying, GIS, geodesy, GNSS, remote sensing, cadastre and LIS.

Apart from government- linked research institutes, several NGOs too are contributing their bit by using geospatial technologies effectively in Malaysia. WWF-Malaysia features prominently among such NGOs, and utilises the latest GIS techniques in tiger, orang-utan, Borneo pygmy elephant, Sumatran rhino and turtle hatchling offshore dispersal pattern study, as well as turtle satellite tracking projects.

Remote Sensing Officer Emmelia Azli bt Ayub details, “One of the four objectives in the National Tiger Action Plan for Malaysia (NTAPM) is to determine the conservation status of tigers. Our field biologists use GIS to obtain landscape covariates that effect the distribution of tigers and their prey in the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex, one of the priority areas identified in the Plan. These landscape covariates include ecological resources (e.g., salt licks, forest density, etc) and physical features (e.g., elevation, rivers, logging roads, etc). All these features are extracted from topographical maps, satellite images and continuous direct field observation. Further analysis will be done in order to determine the habitat suitability for tigers and their prey using GIS modelling techniques.

In the same landscape, a GIS analysis has also been conducted to identify wildlife corridors along the East- West Highway, a 100km road bisecting the Belum and Temengor forests. A preliminary analysis has been carried out to identify potential zones that could signify crucial linkages between the two forested areas. These zones must be secured to maintain gene flow in the Belum- Temengor Complex.

In Sabah, WWF-Malaysia is involved in tracking the Borneo Pygmy Elephant using satellite collars. This project, a collaboration between WWF-Malaysia and Sabah Wildlife Department that started in year 2000, is thus far the largest elephant tracking project ever conducted in Southeast Asia. Elephant satellite collaring activities is a technology that provides better understanding of the movement patterns of elephants. Gathered information is very useful to study the preferred habitat type by Borneo pygmy elephant in Sabah.

This information will then be shared with relevant authorities for conservation and management purposes. WWF-Malaysia is sourcing most of its spatial data from JUPEM and MACRES for its projects. High degree of awareness and administrative drive is enabling research organisations to utilise geospatial technologies though trained manpower is still a problem in many of these institutes.

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