KUCHING: Sarawak is in the midst of setting up a National Parks and Wildlife Department to better manage the state’s protected areas.
Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan said the new department would also focus on promoting tourism and improving revenues to finance the state’s national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries.
The state is currently working on several aspects, including the restructuring of roles of relevant departments such as the Forest Department and Sarawak Forestry Corporation, before the new department starts operations, which could be early next year.
“The new department will result in a more coordinated and focused manpower to meet the challenges of managing our protected areas, wildlife sanctuaries and natural resources more effectively and efficiently,” he told reporters after opening a regional forum on strengthening, diversifying and financing for protected areas here yesterday.
Awang Tengah pointed out the need to diversify financing for protected areas to ensure effective management, which could be sourced from market-based sources that included international tourism for protected areas.
Managing these areas was costly and under the 11th Malaysia Plan, Sarawak had allocated RM43mil for the development of its national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries.
However, this figure did not include the RM10mil annual operational expenditure, he said.
“About 4.6 million tourist arrivals were recorded for Sarawak last year. Out of this, 12.4% visited national parks and nature reserves, generating direct revenue of about RM5.7mil.
“A rebranding and better promotion of Sarawak’s national parks, strategic marketing and opening of new parks is needed to draw in more visitors which will consequently improve revenue for these protected areas,” he said.
Awang Tengah said the state placed high priority on conservation of its protected areas and wildlife as seen in the gazetting of 37 national parks, 14 nature reserves and five wildlife sanctuaries covering a total area of over 944,000ha to date.
Sarawak is also contributing significantly to the Heart of Borneo project implemented in collaboration with Indonesia and Brunei.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, Stefan Priesner, said the agency was working to facilitate the increase in financing of protected areas in Malaysia and the region.
“Malaysia is a country renowned for its rich and diverse biodiversity and ecosystems.
“Indeed, national parks and the wildlife are the backbone of a tourism industry that accounted for US$19.5bil (RM82.4bil) receipts in 2016.
“Nature-based tourism is a rapidly growing sector. UNDP strongly supports the country’s efforts to pursue sustainable development in protected areas.
“UNDP’s Protected Areas Financing project is to establish an effective and robust management system,” he added.
The three-day forum that ends tomorrow attracted over 150 policymakers and experts from UN agencies, ministries of planning, finance and environment as well as development partners and civil society from across the globe.