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Curtin Baram Project Enters New Phase

Press Release: Curtin Baram Project enters a new phase

The Curtin Baram Project is an integrated study which spans the highlands to the sea. Different teams of Curtin University researchers from the university’s Perth and Sarawak campuses are currently conducting studies in selected sites in an area of around 24,000 square kilometres of land and sea. A documentary on the project can be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGmZ0MWhHNk.

1 Research conducted by Curtin University in the Baram region and the se 1

Research conducted by Curtin University in the Baram region and the sea offshore of it

In the Upper Baram catchment, Associate Professor Dominique Dodge-Wan and her team from the Department of Applied Geology at Curtin Sarawak are precisely mapping land use via information from satellite imagery.

“It is important to know the types of land use in the 9,000 square kilometre Baram Catchment because changing land use can impact soil erosion,” said Associate Professor Dodge-Wan.

2 Assoc. Prof

Assoc. Prof. Dodge-Wan and Dr Vijith establishing ground truth for satellite imagery

Soil erosion can impact not only the sediment load carried by the Baram River but also where this load eventually deposits. Thus, the relationship between the materials carried out to sea by the Baram River and the offshore Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park is something which Curtin University is seeking to establish.

From the Upper Baram catchment through to the sea off Miri, another team from Curtin Sarawak’s Department of Applied Geology led by Associate Professor Ramasamy Nagarajan is studying the distribution of heavy metals and their geochemistry. Water, river sediments and plant material are regularly sampled at various points along the Baram River to build baseline data set on the presence of heavy metals.

3 Collecting water sample on the Baram

Collecting water sample on the Baram

The baseline established for heavy metals will be an important reference point for assessing the impact of any developments in the Baram Catchment into the future. “When higher than baseline amounts of toxic metals are found in the Baram environment, it may indicate disturbance in the landscape which will need attending to,” remarked Associate Professor Nagarajan.

4 Assoc. Prof. Nagarajan analysing Baram sediment

Assoc. Prof. Nagarajan analysing Baram sediment

After processing, heavy metal content of sediment and other samples is determined using precision instrumentation at Curtin University which can measure concentrations down to parts per billion.

Sarawak Energy Bhd. is providing the main funding of RM2 million for both Associate Professors Dodge-Wan and Nagarajan’s studies in the Upper Baram.

The Curtin Baram Project enters a new phase this month when research begins on Sarawak’s largest national park, the Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park.

The economic value of the Park has been estimated at RM1.93 million. Sonar mapping of selected areas in the Park which contain 28 patch reefs will signal the start of the offshore phase of The Curtin Baram Project.

5 The Miri Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park offshore Miri

The Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park offshore Miri

Living and old corals will be cored to reveal sediment and sea temperature histories. A record of historical sea temperatures will enable this place in the world to contribute to global climate change data.

6 Dr Jens Zinke collecting a coral core

Dr Jens Zinke collecting a coral core

Current patterns of sediment distribution from the Baram River to the reefs in the Park will be determined over an extended period. Fish populations will be estimated using Baited Remote Underwater Video to enable an assessment of the efficacy of the Park.

The marine biologists who will work on the Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park are Dr. Mick O’Leary, Dr. Nicola Browne, Dr. Jennifer McIlwain and Dr. Iain Parnum of Curtin University’s Department of Environment and Agriculture, while Dr. Jens Zinke and Christina Brown are from the Department of Earth Sciences, Institute of Geological Sciences, Paleontology, Freie Universität Berlin.

Professor Clem Kuek, Director of the Curtin Sarawak Research Institute (CSRI) and Curtin University Sarawak’s Dean of Research & Development announced that the CSRI will provide the seed funding for the research in the Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park, while the Department of Environment and Agriculture at Curtin University will provide support in-kind. According to him, the total cost of the research is estimated at some RM1.5 million so far.

“Curtin University believes in conducting research in its region and its biodiversity. The data collected in all the studies within the Curtin Baram Project will have lasting value and provide reference points for research-informed management of the ecosystem of the peoples in the region,” added Professor Kuek.

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