Stunning images showcase project to support conservation of Indonesian river and forest habitats to protect wildlife

A new project led by a researcher from our University is supporting the conservation of river and forest habitats in Indonesia - which are vital to the survival of a number of rare species of animal including orang-utans and native fish.

Sara Thornton, a PhD student from the Department of Geography, has been investigating tropical peat-swamp forests (TPSF) in Sabangau in Indonesia - tropical forests where waterlogged soils hinder the decomposition of organic materials such as fallen leaves and even whole trees.

TPSFs are important habitats for freshwater fish species, which are an important source of livelihood and protein for many of the communities living by the rivers and forests of Borneo. TPSFs are also vital to our global climate balance, storing significant amounts of carbon in their soils.

However, they are under threat from logging, palm oil, drainage and fire, which threatens the ecosystem and puts the survival of many species of animal at risk. 

Sara explained: “The degradation of TPSF habitats not only impacts the future survival of the endangered orangutan, but also the freshwater fish that are so important to local communities that depend on the forest and water habitats for their livelihoods.

Learning to make a traditional fish trap (Dudin on left and Sara on right), photo by Julie Lasne
Learning to make a traditional fish trap (Dudin on left and Sara on right), photo by Julie Lasne
“It is therefore essential to improve our understanding of these wetland habitats, their importance for community livelihoods and cultures, and ultimately find ways of promoting conservation alongside community development.”

As part of the project, Sara, working with local research assistants and facilitators, conducted the first in-depth surveys of the fish and water in the Sabangau area, identifying 48 fish species, bringing the total species count to 54 species when including known fish in the area.

The project also involved interviews and focus groups in two local communities: Kereng Bangkirai (situated near to the intact Sabangau peat-swamp forest) and Taruna Jaya (situated in an area of severely degraded peatland), exploring their perceptions of environmental change on their lives and livelihood.

Using collected data on water quality the researchers are now able to recommend improvements for future fish sampling in the area, and they now have a baseline to understand longer-term changes in the wetland ecosystem with future surveys.

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