THE application to have Penang Hill and its surrounding areas listed as a Unesco biosphere reserve has been successfully submitted after four years of meticulous research and tedious submission processes, says Datuk Cheok Lay Leng.
The general manager of Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) said the nomination dossier was submitted by the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry late last month after it was approved by the Cabinet.
“The assessment of the application at Unesco is said to take about one year.
“The proposed Unesco biosphere reserve will encompass 20% of Penang island, covering Penang Hill as a central park, Teluk Bahang National Park and Marine Park, Penang Botanic Gardens, as well as six permanent forest reserves – Bukit Kerajaan Forest Reserve, Teluk Bahang Forest Reserve, Laksamana Forest Reserve, Penara Bukit Forest Reserve, Highlands Forest Reserve and Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve.
“It will also include the two dams in Teluk Bahang and Ayer Itam.
“It is equivalent to 12,481ha, ” he said in a statement.
According to Unesco, biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems or a combination thereof which are internationally recognised within the framework of Unesco’s Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB).
MAB is an intergovernmental scientific programme that aims to promote innovative approaches to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.
Cheok said the Penang Hill biosphere reserve would serve as a central green lung to Penang island, where sustainable economic activities facilitate conservation efforts of its natural landscapes.
“PHC believes that these efforts can be driven through community stewardship as the MAB framework will demonstrate a balanced relationship between the community and the environment.
“This recognition will further benefit the conservation and preservation of our ecosystems and forest reserves that are rich in biodiversity and where various species of flora and fauna have been found, including species that are endemic, ” he added.
Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the gazetting would intensify education for sustainable development and conservation through scientific research.
“This can lead the way for Penang to become a global centre of excellence for research into sustainability, biodiversity and conservation, creating spin-off effects and further contributing to the promotion of ecotourism.
“Through the education components of this project, we will be able to draw greater awareness towards sustainable development and improve the livelihood of local communities.
“The impact it will bring is tremendous and will pave an exciting future for us.
“While the project is led by PHC, it will not have been possible without the immense support of the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry as well as collaborative work with Universiti Sains Malaysia, The Habitat Foundation and state agencies, ” said Chow, who is also PHC chairman.
State tourism and creative economy committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin is optimistic about the potential.
“This will be the state’s second accolade from Unesco and the third of its kind in Malaysia if we are successful.
“With this additional status, we can expect greater efforts put to preserve and conserve our cultural heritage and natural landscapes.
“This will promote Penang as an ecotourism site and add the variety of attractions we can offer, ” he explained.
At present, Unesco’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves lists 701 in 124 countries, including 21 transboundary sites.
Malaysia has two biosphere reserves – Tasik Chini and Crocker Range.