MALAYSIAN KARST SOCIETY

About the Malaysian Karst Society

The Malaysian Karst Society (MKS) is a non-profit society formed to conserve the karst outcrops in Malaysia. Karst is landscape underlain by limestone which has been eroded by water through dissolution, producing various formations, these include the limestone hills and caves.  Limestone forests can also grow in the valleys and slopes of the hills.

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Save our Limestone Hills

STOP QUARRYING HILLS FOR LIMESTONE, DIG FOR IT INSTEAD
The STAR July 13, 2015
By TAN CHENG LI

Quarrying limestone hills not only mars the landscape but destroys a wild habitat. We really do not have to blast limestone hills to get materials for making cement. There is a whole lot more limestone deposits just below the ground in many old mining areas in Perak, which can be tapped instead. In fact, the cache of limestone in these places is six times more than what can be obtained from the hills, according to Ramli Mohd Osman, senior research officer at the Mineral Research Centre, an agency under the Minerals and Geoscience Department.

He says idle tin mining land can be good sources of limestone as much of the peninsula is underlain with the sedimentary rock. Of the 38,100ha of such land in Perak, he says 21,100ha have limestone reserves and these can yield 21 billion tonnes of the material. Ramli says extracting sub-surface stores of limestone is one way to stop the destruction of majestic limestone hills, which threatens plans to set up the Kinta Valley Geopark. Sprawling over 2,000sqkm in the Kinta and Kampar districts, the park is to be a showcase of the state’s geological heritage.

But even as Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir was announcing grand plans for the geopark, the karsts there continue to be blasted. There is an obvious conflict between the geopark and limestone quarrying. In the heart of the proposed geopark, there is extensive exploitation and gross defacing of the limestone hills of Gunung Terundum, Gunung Rapat and Gunung Lanno.

“The valley has become more like sites of massive destruction of limestone hills rather than sites of preservation of natural wonders of great heritage significance,” says Ramli, who heads the unit on rehabilitation of mines and quarries.
Sub-surface limestone quarrying is nothing new. Ramli says three companies which are already quarrying for limestone in old mining land in Perak – Tasek Corp in Kinta, Hume Cement in Kampar and Lhoist in Batang Padang – show it to be practical and economical.

From surveys with the companies, he found that the additional cost – because of assessments to locate the limestone deposit, depth and quality – is only marginally higher than quarrying limestone hills. “That is the cost we have to pay if we want to preserve limestone hills,” he says. As sub-surface quarrying can reach depths of 60m to 100m, the main concerns are drawing down of the water table and vibrations. So Ramli says there should be studies to determine the impact on the environment and nearby land-use activities, such as farming. He hopes his findings can help government agencies to encourage quarry operators to work on old mining land instead of karsts. “The quarrying sector in Perak will not be affected. The limestone reserve in idle mining land is sufficient to compensate the loss in exploitation of surface limestone,” he says.

KEY ROLES

Karsts are like islands of biodiversity – they support many endemic species due to their multitude of ecological niches created by different terrain such as fissured cliffs, cave chambers, streams and forests. The species found on karsts are also highly specialised as they have to adapt to the harsh environment there, which ranges from highly alkaline conditions to thin soil layers and fluctuating levels of light. In Peninsular Malaysia, 21% of 1,216 karst-associated plant species are endemic to the peninsula, and 11% are strictly confined to karsts.

The presence of rare species is not the only reason for preserving limestone hills, however. These outcrops serve other important ecological roles too, says Universiti Malaysia Terengganu conservation scientist Dr Reuben Clements. He says limestone hills capture rain which then replenishes groundwater. In Indonesia, quarrying led to water shortages in villages – in the absence of water storage in karsts, rain quickly flows into streams that empty into the sea.

Caves shelter bats that provide humans with important services such as pollination and pest control. “With no bats, we lose the ecosystem services from them as fruit tree pollinators and seed dispersers. In one study in Thailand, it was found that fruit trees further away from limestone hills have lower produce. If you lose limestone karsts, you lose the bat population and the quality of fruit trees decline.”

As bats prey on insects, they act as a biological pest control. In the southern United States, free-tailed bats protect the cotton crop as they feed on cotton bollworms. In Thailand, the wrinkle-lipped bat feeds on white-backed planthoppers, a major rice pest, and prevented rice losses of almost 2,900 tonnes per year.

NEED TO PROTECT KARSTS

Clements says laws to protect karsts are sorely lacking and many receive protection only because they happen to sit within national parks. To curb unnecessary limestone hill blasting, he says quarrying rates should be monitored and made more transparent. And we need to protect hills that harbour not only endangered species, but also functionally important ones.

The Natural Resources Ministry is urged to draw up a policy to protect limestone karsts. There is none currently and many karsts remain uncharted. Quarrying totally destroys the flora, fauna, geological features and archaeological artefacts, so it is important to ascertain that the hill to be quarried is of no value in these areas. New species are constantly found in limestone hills and they include the freshwater crab, Phricotelphusa hymeiri, named after caver Hymeir Kamarudin who collected the specimen from a limestone cave in Perlis.

“Yes, we need to exploit limestone for products such as cement and marble but only after scientific studies are completed,” says Universiti Teknologi Malaysia scientist Dr Maketab Mohamed. “All the hills should be classified and those which have high conservation value should be left alone. Those which do not can be considered for exploitation. Any blasting or destructive exploitation before scientific studies are done will probably cause extinction of endemic species without them being found and taxonomically classified.” Maketab, too, wants to see quarry operators mine underground limestone deposits but “unfortunately, most operators take the easy way out, exploiting the visible karst hills or the ‘tip of the icebergs’.”

Caver Hymeir Kamarudin says 80% of the country’s limestone resources is actually underground. “Most above-ground karsts are important for biodiversity, recreation and natural landscapes, and should be protected. The stuff that is not important is underground but that is not being looked at.”

The protem chairman of the newly-formed Malaysian Cave and Karst Conservancy says there has to be a national policy on limestone resources, to be adopted by the states. He says knowledge on limestone resources is spread out among research bodies, individuals and conservation groups and so, not easily available. Hymeir plans to seek government funding to pool the information in a database, which can be used to determine which karsts to protect. “We have to look at karst resources in a holistic manner. Now, we’re studying the hills only when there is a threat.” Since we are already protecting our forests, mangroves, coral reefs and mountains, it is time to do the same for limestone hills.

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Bloom is of a new species of plant discovered on Gunung Kanthan

by patrick lee

The STAR  Friday September 12, 2014

PETALING JAYA: A new species of plant, Meiogyne kanthanensis, with citrus-smelling flowers was discovered on a limestone hill in Perak last year. Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (Frim) plant taxonomist Dr Ruth Kiew who made the discovery on Gunung Kanthan, said the plant was so rare that only three trees of its kind were seen. An international scientific journal published in New Zealand known as Phytotaxa reported that the plant’s flower had an interesting smell. “The flower…(has) a fruity aroma, a complex scent reminiscent of pomelo, citrus, lychee, plum and lemon grass,” it said. The report was co-authored by Dr Kiew, Frim Forest Biodiversity director Dr Saw Leng Guan, and Frim research officers Joanne Tan and Ummul Nazrah Abdul Rahman. It also mentioned the discovery of two other new species – Gymnostachyum kanthanense and Vatica kanthanensis – both also found on the hill. Tan said in an interview that scientists had not noticed the plant there before, and that its flower was only visible during certain times of the year. “We try to be there nearly every month, but might miss some of the flowering seasons,” she said. Flora and Fauna International (Asia-Pacific) regional director Tony Whitten said the discovery meant that experts would have to survey Gunung Kanthan’s endemic species and surrounding hills. “This would be no mean task given the hills’ steepness, but it is possible, as the stakes are high – and extinction is final,” he said. Lafarge Malaysia Bhd industrial operations vice-president Mariano Garcia said the discoveries would be reviewed along with a previous survey of the hill. He said local stakeholders would be updated on the progress of a quarry development programme with the biodiversity study. Lafarge is involved in mining limestone in two designated zones on the hill.

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New snail species found

by patrick lee

The STAR  Saturday August 30, 2014

IPOH: A new species of snail has been discovered in Perak and named after the cement company quarrying the hill it was found on. Found by two Malaysians in 2011, Charopa lafargei is only 1.4mm tall and takes its name after Lafarge, which is currently mining the limestone hill Gunung Kanthan. Published in a scientific journal by the Netherlands Malacological Society on Aug 17, the report said the snail was found on the hill’s northern region. “On a species level, it is uniquely identified among West Malaysian charopidae by its conical shell and high, lamella-shaped radial ribs,” the report, co-authored by Dutch taxonomist Jaap Van Vermuelen and Malaysian Mohammad Effendi Marzuki, said. It added that the snail was found on leaf litter at the base of a limestone cliff and termed as “presumed narrowly endemic”, meaning that it was found only in a small area and that more surveys needed to be done to be sure. “We named this species Charopa lafargei after Lafarge, whose declared goals for biodiversity include minimising and avoiding damage to important habitats,” the report said. Speaking to The Star via e-mail, Vermuelen said the snail was discovered by Mohammad and Liew Thor Seng, a biologist currently based at Universiti Malaysia Sabah. “These adapted species often occur confined to a single hill or a small group of hills, and are found nowhere else in the world. Charopa lafargei may be such a species,” he said.

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Preserve all of Gunung Kanthan

The STAR Thursday May 29, 2014

by patrick lee

IPOH: Environmentalists are demanding that Gunung Kanthan’s ecosystem be kept whole and that any conservation there not be limited to merely one of the two zones. Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamad said Kanthan’s Area C and D were connected. “(The areas are marked by a) human boundary. It’s an ecosystem. You can’t quarry one side without affecting the other,” he said. He said Kanthan’s southern ecosystem would be in trouble if only one area was designated a conservation zone. Dr Maketab said he would be meeting with Lafarge Malaysia — which wants to quarry one of the zones — in mid-June to present his views to the company. Lafarge is the parent of a group of companies dealing in the manufacture and sale of cement, ready-mixed concrete and other related building materials. Initial findings by the company’s biodiversity study on the two areas determined that Area D was environmentally sensitive while Area C was not. But Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) plant taxonomist Dr Ruth Kiew warned that Area D would be severely affected if Area C was quarried. “There is a water system that runs through the limestone forest into the caves. If they get a flood in the cave, it will be Damaged,” she said. The Star previously reported that Dr Kiew and her team had discovered two new flora species in Area C. The area was also home to nine plant species that were on Malaysia’s Red List of Endangered Plants. However, Universiti Malaya Institute of Biological Sciences head Prof Dr Rosli Hashim does not consider Area C environmentally sensitive. “The list of species (in Area C) is not as impressive as that in Area D. The only species of importance there is the serow (mountain goat),” he said, and the animal roamed and was not localised to that area. Dr Rosli and his team of 13 researchers had carried out Lafarge’s six-month biodiversity study of the area. Jim Ruxton, Lafarge senior vice-president of industrial operations, said it had updated the Perak state executive council on the study’s findings. The study has also been presented to the International Lafarge Biodiversity Panel, which was reviewing it. Ruxton said the state exco was looking to form a committee on the matter and that Lafarge would work with both to reach a decision on Area D. The final report on the biodiversity study is expected to be released next month. Ruxton said Lafarge would carry out an environmental impact assessment of the area if it was required to. Lafarge plans to spend more than RM200mil over the next two years to expand its Kanthan plant facilities and operations. The entire area spans some 150ha, with half already quarried by the company.

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New flora and fauna species found

The Star – Saturday February 8, 2014

by Tan Cheng Li and Isabelle Lai

PETALING JAYA: Botanists have discovered two new plant species and a new species of gecko within an undisturbed portion of limestone forest on Gunung Kanthan that many fear will be quarried in the near future. Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) plant taxonomist Dr Ruth Kiew said the new discoveries were further proof that the area, known as Zone C of Gunung Kanthan, near Ipoh, has critical conservation value. Kiew said they had found a diminutive herb with purple flowers (Gymnostachyum nov) from the Acanthaceae family, and a tree (Vatica nov) from the Dipterocarpaceae family. “In addition to these two new species, Zone C is also home to nine species on Malaysia’s Red List of Endangered Plants. They are in danger of extinction,” she told The Star. Kiew said the find was made during one of several plant surveys last year in Zones C and D at the southern portion of Gunung Kanthan to compile a complete record of all plant species there. Botanists also suspect that the critically endangered Paraboea vulpina of the African Violet family had gone extinct on Gunung Kanthan due to quarrying in the northern portion of the mountain. The plant was recorded there by the Malaysian Nature Society in its 1991 study, and with its extinction at Kanthan, only two other population sites on other limestone hills remain. American herpetologist Dr Lee Grismer, who had led a group of local and foreign biologists in surveys of the area last July, has also discovered a new species of gecko there. Named the Gua Kanthan bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus guakanthanensis), the 7cm-long lizard bears five dark bands on its body and seeks refuge in cracks on the limestone walls. Grismer said the species appeared to be restricted to the hill, as it was not seen in nearby limestone hills. This makes it the second endemic fauna species in the area, besides the trapdoor spider Liphistius kanthan.

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Perak hills open to destruction, say experts

The Star – Saturday February 8, 2014

PETALING JAYA: Currently, none of the hills in Perak have been gazetted for protection although conservation of the state’s limestone hills has been incorporated into the Ipoh Local Draft Plan 2020 and the Perak Structure Plan 2020. “We strongly support Ipoh Mayor Datuk Roshidi Hashim who called for 16 prominent hills to be preserved and protected in May last year. The first is Gunung Kanthan,” said Forest Research Institute of Malaysia botanist Dr Ruth Kiew Dr Lee Grismer, renowned in the scientific fraternity for his discovery of several species of frogs, lizards and snakes in Malaysia, said the hills should not be quarried so as to protect the newly-discovered species. “These findings add to our other work in limestone areas throughout Malaysia; that these regions, overlooked by terrestrial biologists, are areas of high biodiversity,” said the biologist from La Sierra University in California. “As with plants and invertebrates, limestone forests are proving to be significant areas of high herpetological endemism and should be afforded special conservation status rather than turned into cement. “We have only explored approximately 2% of these formations and their associated forests, and anticipate that tens of additional new species will eventually be discovered as exploration continues,” wrote the scientists when publishing their gecko finding in the journal Zootaxa, where Grismer also jointly described a new species of rock gecko that is found only on Pulau Bidong, Terengganu, named Cnemaspis bidongensis. Lafarge Malaysia Bhd, which is currently extracting limestone from Zones A and B for cement production, is conducting its own studies in the area, with its Kanthan plant manager Sekar Kaliannan saying last year that initial studies of Zone C indicated it “does not contain sensitive biodiversity”. The Lafarge-commissioned a biodiversity study of Zones C and D, which was done by a team from Universiti Malaya’s Institute of Biological Sciences led by Prof Dr Rosli Hashim, together with Lafarge’s International Bio-diversity Panel (IBP). Sekar said the results of the study were expected to be made known to the public by March. “The findings will be presented to our top management in France and to Lafarge’s IBP, before it is shared with the Perak state government, media and other stakeholders,” he said.

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Conserve rest of Gunung Kanthan

The Star – Sunday February 9, 2014

by Isabelle Lai, Julia Khaw and Audrey Lye

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) is lobbying for the entire southern portion of Gunung Kanthan in Ipoh to be conserved as a unit, said president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamad. Following the discovery of new flora and fauna species there, he said it was clear that Lafarge Malaysia Berhad should not extend its limestone quarrying activities into Zones C and D. “The whole area must be preserved. Lafarge may divide the areas for administrative purposes but th­­ey are interconnected ecosystem­- wise,” he said when contacted. Dr Maketab said that MNS had no issue with Lafarge’s Kanthan cement plant nor its existing quarrying activities. “But it must source limestone from other locations once the resources are finished, which will not be for many years. Zones C and D cannot be touched,” he added. Dr Maketab said MNS would propose to Lafarge that it could help run Zones C and D as a conservation area and visitors centre, so people could go in and understand the karst system in the Kinta Valley. Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) plant taxonomist Dr Ruth Kiew, whose team discovered two new flora species on Zone C, described the area as containing “extremely sensitive biodiversity”. “It is critical to conserve the entire ecosystem intact, in particular the unique limestone forest that is a refuge for plants and animals because Gunung Kanthan is already an island surrounded by inhospitable farms and plantations,” she said. They found a herb with purple flowers (Gymnostachyum sp. nov.) of the Acanthaceae family and a tree (Vatica sp. nov.) of the Dipte­rocarpaceae family in one of several plant surveys there last year. A new species of gecko, named the Gua Kanthan bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus guakanthanensis), was discovered in Zone D by American herpetologist Dr Lee Grismer and his team in July last year. This discovery marks the second endemic fauna species found in the area, with the first being the Liphistius Kanthan trapdoor spider. When contacted, the Malaysian Karst Society urged Lafarge to allow visitors and scientists into the caves so they could experience the beauty of limestone caves for themselves. “We used to organise trips into the caves but have been restricted recently as the property is now private,” said a spokesman who declined to be named. Lafarge is expected to announce the results of its biodiversity study of the area by March. The study was done by a team from Universiti Malaya’s Institute of Biological Sciences together with Lafarge’s International Biodiversity Panel.


Perak Tourism Appreciation Award 2009 The MKS wishes to offer heartiest congratulations to our esteemed member, Mr. Cheang Kum Seng who has received the President’s Award for his services in promoting the Karst landscape of Perak. He has recently published a book, ‘Limestone Hills and Caves of the Kinta Valley’ which features an impressive collection of his wonderful photographs taken over a span of 20 years. This book will serve as a reference for the beauty and magnificence of the Limestone environment in the Kinta Valley which will be lost forever if not protected from exploitation. He received the award from HRH the Sultan of Perak on the 29th of November 2009. To get a copy of this book please contact MNS Perak branch at mnsperak@gmail.com,



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