Ayer Hitam Peat Swamp Forest – The Last Black Jewel of West Johor
Ayer Hitam Peat Swamp Forest is the last remaining peatswamp forest in the state of Johor, Malaysia. Wetlands Inernational is working together with the State Government to protect and conserve the area.
By Denise Cheah - Technical Officer
Peat swamp forests are the largest forested wetlands in Malaysia. Their functions include flood mitigation, and serving as a vital carbon sink. Initially the State of Johor had 53,764 hectares of pristine peatlands. However, misconceptions of peatlands as wastelands have led to their development and destruction for agricultural interest. Today, only a small section of 3,797 hectares of peat land remains untouched. The Ayer Hitam Peat Swamp Forest Reserve is the only significant and contiguous area of peat swamp forest habitat remaining in this part of the state.
In 2008, Wetlands International received funding from Ashden Trust Fund to initiate a project on peatland restoration. With the funds, a survey was conducted on the biodiversity of Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve. From the assessment, a total of 21 species of fish from 7 families were found. This includes the critically endangered endemic Betta persephone which was initially thought to be extinct in Malaysia.
The assessment also records a total of 91 species of birds from 38 families in the AHFR with at least 10 globally-threatened species and many more Sunda endemic species such as the Blue-rumped Parrot, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Red-crowned Barbet and Green Iora etc. During the assessment, six out of seven mammal species spotted were globally threatened: The White-handed Gibbon, Southern Pig-tailed Macaque, Dusky Leaf monkey and Malayan Tapir are some of the more prominent ones.
At the moment, Wetlands International is working with the Johor Forestry Department and State Economic Planning Unit of Johor UPEN to conduct a peat land restoration and rehabilitation project. With the support from the Johor State government, it is hoped that the AHFR will serve as model for future restoration works in other degraded peat lands in Malaysia.