KOTA KINABALU: Drawing from decades of research and community-led citizen science, a civil society coalition in Sabah (named Save Kinabatangan) have crafted a long term vision for the Kinabatangan floodplain which is at risk of losing its integrity as a safe haven for communities and wildlife.
Water pollution has intensified loss of fish stocks, human-wildlife conflicts are on the rise, and the natural environment is deteriorating, negatively impacting local communities and some of the planet’s most iconic species like the Bornean orang utan and elephant, Save Kinabatangan said in describing the current scenario.
In its document, the coalition has set 10 targets to achieve a more sustainable long-term vision for a floodplain with large tracks of forests, riparian vegetation, wildlife corridors, clean rivers and viable wildlife populations, where local communities benefit through ecotourism and compatible land uses.
Targets include restoring the health of the natural environment, responsible management of oil palm plantations and mills, and constituting a single management authority for Kinabatangan – Corridor of Life (K-Col).
The existing 45,700 hectares of Forest Reserves and Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary are not large enough to achieve the vision and too fragmented to ensure long-term survival of wildlife populations in this region, while another 13,000 hectares of natural forests used by wildlife are outside protected areas and are likely to be converted for agriculture.
“Based on our combined experience and work in the area, we see potential for better management in this corridor of life. At the moment, there are gaps in resources, capacity and coordination which need to be addressed.
“Over 85 per cent of the area is large scale oil palm plantation and we have even found this crop planted in flood prone areas resulting in 16,000 hectares of abandoned plantation and significant economic loss,” Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) Executive Director Cynthia Ong said in describing some current issues listed in the document.
The seven-page vision document was sent to Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman on April 10 and Save Kinabatangan looks forward and commits to a concerted effort with the State Government to move the vision through to accomplishment.
Save Kinabatangan comprises Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), HUTAN, Kinabatangan – Corridor of Life Tourism Operators Association (KiTA), Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), Living Landscape Alliance (LiLA), Sabah Environmental Protection Association (SEPA), Sabah Environmental Trust (SET), WWF-Malaysia (Sabah office) and conservationist Dr Junaidi Payne.
“Kinabatangan is a complex living landscape and for this reason we took many months to craft a vision document that covers almost every aspect. For example, our target for local communities relates to them directly benefitting from the protection and management of natural resources and to supporting sustainable community-led eco-tourism that invests in nature.
“The tourism target is linked to measures to reduce its environmental footprint and broaden its benefits to both communities and Sabah’s economy, while the target for responsible oil palm plantations and mills will see these certified to Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) standards by 2025 as mandated by the Sabah Government,” SET Chief Executive Officer Dr Rahimatsah Amat said.
Elaborating on management of K-Col as a target, Rahimatsah said Save Kinabatangan wants to see all protected areas and other state-land within 100 metres of the river integrated under one legislation to be effectively managed by a single authority.
This authority would have appropriate financing, staffing and a robust management plan, and will facilitate enhancement of capacity, resources and awareness among all stakeholders.
Targets related to securing habitat for wildlife and connecting forests would allow for land owners to effectively manage their areas to include wildlife needs such as safe passage, promote the retention of small forest patches within plantations as natural “stepping stone” habitats and rehabilitating areas with native plant species on private land or in degraded protected riparian areas.