In the search for new, handsome decking alternatives, merbau decking has become a popular, go-to wood. Sometimes called ipil or kwila, and scientifically known as Intsia bijuga, this southeast Asian native is renowned for durability, termite resistance, and an attractive appearance. Despite the benefits of merbau decking, there is a dark side to the harvesting and use of this wood, a side that will make you think twice about using it in your decking project.
- A Vulnerable Species:Due to its increased use in the last few decades, the Intsia bijugais now classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This is the first category in their range of threatened species, and indicates that the continued deforestation without replacement will push the tree to the brink of extinction. In fact, Greenpeace has estimated that the merbau tree could be extinct by 2042 if logging is not reduced and conservation efforts are not increased.
- Poor Regeneration: Even when merbau trees are replaced by legal logging procedures, the tree itself is not sustainable. Many merbau trees are old growth, with sparse populations even in their native regions. They are slow to mature as well – many of them can take up to 75 years or more to reach full maturity. While they are tough trees, they are also open to infection and damage in their young and growing stage, so the replacement plantings aren’t guaranteed to even reach full maturity.
- A Dangerous Harvest: Illegal logging is used to skirt some of the systems put in place to protect the merbau tree, logging that is not only harmful to the environment but also damaging to the communities that depend on legal logging. Illegal logging often has a higher rate of injury, no means of replacing the trees that are harvested, and no concern for the welfare of local communities. The lower cost of illegally harvested merbau wood also hurts the loggers themselves – these workers receive only a portion of the wages received by loggers working in legal forestry.
- Destroying a Precious Ecosystem: The Intsia bijugatree is one of the foundations of the mangrove swamps, a unique and highly beneficial ecosystem that is important to Northern Australia and Southeast Asia. These ecosystems are beneficial to the local communities – in a recent study, Finn Danielsen and his team determined that the effects of storm surges and tsunamis have been muted thanks to the ability of mangrove swamps to absorb wave energy. This is on top of the swamps providing a home to native wildlife such as shrimp, crabs, mud lobsters, and much more.