The country of Brunei Darussalam is a green gem on the rapidly deforesting island of Borneo. Much of Brunei is still covered in Asian lowland forest, including some intact peat swamps and mangrove forest, which is in stark contrast to the situation in other countries within the region. These forests are rich with species of plants and animals, but face threats due to development, peat drainage and fires.
Brunei is located on the island Borneo, which is the third-largest island in the world. The rainforest of Borneo is 140 million years old, which makes it one of the oldest rainforests in the world. The forests are rich with species of plants and animals.
Peatlands cover about 18 per cent of Brunei’s land area. It is home to at least nine different types of peat swamp forest. In some areas in Brunei the peat is up to 7 meters thick. The peat is believed to be four to five thousand years old, grown over time in what used to be a bay. Mangroves developed in the brackish waters, followed by the emergence of peat swamps as the land moved seawards.
Besides being rich in biodiversity, Brunei has a long history of oil and gas production, with Shell in a leading position. To have access to sufficient and good quality water, pipelines were constructed which cut through the largest peat dome of Brunei, the Badas Peat Dome. The drainage of this peat area has degraded areas in the west of Brunei. This has led to harmful impacts on the animals and plants living in the peat swamps. Drained peat also loses its sponge function, thus causing floods in the coastal region where oil operations and towns are located.
Natural peatlands store enormous amounts of carbon and thus help to mitigate climate change. As a result of drainage, the organic carbon that is normally stored underwater is suddenly exposed to the air, where it decomposes and emits climate change-causing greenhouse gases. Drainage increases the chances of peat fires. Peat fires also release huge amounts of greenhouse gases and they cause health-damaging haze, which is now an annual occurrence. Furthermore they threaten the integrity of the pipelines and of other infrastructure.
We worked together with Brunei Shell Petroleum in the Lower Belait valley in which the Badas Peat Dome is located, to reduce the impact of their ongoing oil and gas activities on biodiversity and ecosystem services through:
- A Biodiversity Action Plan, a set of future actions that will lead to the conservation or enhancement of biodiversity, has been completed and will be implemented for the onshore footprint of Shell. We performed a thorough biodiversity survey, focusing on plants, dragonflies, mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles. This resulted in thorough baseline data, including new species for Brunei and the discovery of a dragonfly species entirely new to science.
- We developed a plan aimed at preventing fire incidents in peat areas for Shell’s staff, contractors and local communities. Staff and local stakeholders were trained to implement it. The communities will benefit from efforts to prevent fires and mitigate the risks of peat fire haze to public health.
- We developed a plan for ecological restoration of disturbed areas and degraded peatlands. The next step is to implement the plan.
- We aim at developing and encouraging (ecological) knowledge and skills with the country’s academic and research institutions by having Bruneians participate and contribute as specialists and research assistants.