A landmark project aims to extend protection over Sabah’s rainforests to 30% of the state’s land area by 2025. More than 60 top scientists from leading international universities are spearheading the effort.

The Sabah Forestry Department and South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) have signed a memorandum of understanding for the project.

The scientists – from universities in Britain, Europe, the US, Australia and Malaysia – witnessed the signing ceremony at the Cambridge Conservation Initiative’s David Attenborough Building in England on April 20.

Prince William officiated at the event, which saw attendance by representatives of philanthropies, NGOs and interested parties.

Speaking at the opening of a related meeting on the science of tropical rainforest research in Kota Kinabalu on April 21, Sabah Forests Chief Conservator Datuk Sam Mannan said that forest conservation is a major priority for the state government.

“Over the past 20 years, we have worked to increase the extent of protected forests in Sabah to almost 1.9 million ha today. This is equivalent to 26% of the state’s land area,” he said, noting that this has surpassed goals set by the International Union of Conservation of Nature and Aichi Biodiversity Target.

In a speech released to the media, Mannan said the Sabah government is committed to reaching its aim.

“This will involve the protection of an additional 1 million acres [404,685 ha] of rainforest in Sabah. The location of these new areas has yet to be identified. This is the work that lies ahead of us,” he said.

Supported by the Rainforest Trust, the project is based on a strategic partnership involving the Sabah Forestry Department, SEARRP, the Carnegie Institution for Science, community-based organisation Pacos Trust, and BC Initiative.

SEARRP Director Dr Glenn Reynolds, who heads the coordination of the project, said: “Between now and 2020, the project will generate maps of forest carbon, biodiversity and functional composition that will be integrated with archived and new field observations.”

Critical habitat connections will be identified for various plant and animal species, with emphasis on those that provide important ecosystem services such as pollination and dispersal. This is to ensure the usefulness of forest protection over time, to cope with climate change.

“Integrating the livelihood requirements of forest-dependent communities will be a vital consideration in the selection of new protected areas. Led by our partners Pacos Trust and BC Initiative, the project will consult with local communities and stakeholders to reach consensus on an optimal scenario for rainforest protection,” Dr Reynolds added.

“This project presents a unique window of opportunity to catalyse world-leading science and protect an additional 1 million acres of rainforest – forest that will otherwise face mounting and very imminent threats.”

Source: The Star Online, April 21, 2017

This is an edited version of the article.


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