Gearing up for geopark status

Batu Caves, in the Gombak district with tower karsts, is one of the geosites that will make up the proposed Gombak-Hulu Langat Geopark. — FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

PREPARATIONS to formally recognise Selangor’s first unified national geopark are in full swing as the state gears up for an evaluation exercise that is set to take place this month.

State tourism, environment, green technology and Orang Asli affairs committee chairman Hee Loy Sian said the process of seeking recognition for the Gombak-Hulu Langat Geopark (GHL Geopark) was currently around 80% complete.

The recognition is given to geosites that are of global, regional and national importance.

“A formal application along with a dossier was submitted to the National Geopark Evaluation Committee last year.

“The GHL Geopark will be evaluated by the national evaluation committee between Aug 16 and 18.

“The (Selangor) committee is making final preparations in anticipation of the evaluation exercise, which will hopefully take us one step closer to obtaining recognition as a national geopark,” he said in a statement.

Hee added that the state committee had conducted a “mock run” of the evaluation last month to determine its preparedness in anticipation of the upcoming appraisal.

Hee serves as the chairman of the Selangor GHL Geopark committee.

Also on the committee are Tourism Selangor, Selangor Economic Planning Unit and PLANMalaysia Selangor.

Unique geological features

As part of its application process for national geopark status, the committee was tasked to identify outstanding geological characteristics of the proposed site.

GHL Geopark is dominated by a granite range that is estimated to be between 200 and 220 million years old.

The Gombak Selangor Quartz Ridge is also documented to be the longest quartz formation in the world, spanning more than 14km long and 200m wide.

“The committee has also been engaging with relevant local councils, agencies and local communities through a series of focus group discussions to create awareness of the geopark initiative and gather feedback,” he noted.

Hee said that the process of gazetting the geopark, which started in 2019, was being done in several phases with two targeted outcomes.

“We hope to achieve national geopark status by 2023. Subsequently, we hope to seek recognition at the international level from Unesco Global Geopark in 2025.

“The initial phases involved an assessment of the suitability of the areas identified as a geopark and coming up with an action plan.”

A national geopark is an area that has been gazetted for sustainable development with equal emphasis on the preservation of natural resources, local history and culture.

The Energy and Natural Resources Ministry, through its Mineral and Geoscience Department which oversees the National Geopark Committee, is responsible for awarding the status.

The committee reviews the status every four years, based on how the geosite retains its development approach and empowers the local economy.

Should the GHL Geopark be recognised as a national geopark, it would be the eighth in the country after Kinta Valley Geopark (awarded in 2018), Jerai Geopark (2018), Mersing Geopark (2019), Kinabalu Geopark (2020), Lenggong Geopark (2021), Labuan Geopark (2021) and Sarawak Delta Geopark (2022).

The national status is not to be confused with the global geopark position granted by Unesco.

Langkawi is currently the only Malaysian site to have attained global geopark status.

Efforts are currently underway to ratify Kinabalu Geopark as a Unesco Global Geopark site, with the final evaluation completed on July 20.

Some 31 geosites have been proposed to make up the 112,955ha GHL Geopark.

However, only 20 of these geosites will be actively promoted.

It stretches from Gombak to part of Hulu Langat district, involving the Ampang Jaya, Selayang and Kajang municipal councils.

Those identified for gazettement include the Gombak Selangor Quartz Ridge, the Batu Caves limestone formation, Selayang hot spring, Batu Arang former coal mine and Sungai Tekala waterfall, among others.

“Upgrading and maintenance works have been carried out at selected geosites in preparation including the installation of infographic boards, improvements to pathways and other infrastructure,” Hee said.

In Selayang, the plan also includes the setting up of a geological gallery in Batu Arang.

It was reported that the Selayang Municipal Council had allocated RM2mil to upgrade the hot springs in Taman Rimba Bukit Lagong, while infographic boards had been set up in Batu Arang, Batu Caves and Gua Damai Park.

Hee said the state committee was keen to form a “geopark management plan” for each geosite of the proposed GHL Geopark to ensure that future development would not affect the integrity of the sites as well as provide guidance to local authorities in planning development surrounding the area.

“We will also increase promotional activities and awareness of the uniqueness of each geosite, as well as improve accessibility to these sites.”

Community engagement vital

Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES) director Leela Panikkar said the Selangor government must consider current or potential issues on the ground that could affect the status of the geopark.

“This would include infrastructure projects such as highways cutting through the forest, quarrying as well as any unresolved community issues.”

She said that much of the area that came under the Gombak Hulu Langat geopark project initiative was part of Taman Warisan Negeri Selangor, which had been classified as an Environmentally Sensitive Area Rank 1.

The initiative recognises the need to manage the area holistically, potentially adding another layer of protection of the place which is seen as a site which is of cultural, historical and scientific value.

It also plays an important role in maintaining critical ecosystem services including climate regulation, soil protection and maintenance of critical water catchment areas in Selangor, she said.

“It is also home to a wide diversity of flora and fauna, including the endangered Malayan tiger, Malayan sun bear and Malayan tapir.

“There has been continuous engagement with stakeholders including local communities and civil society organisations to explain the initiative, get their feedback and identify local champions (or Geoparkians).

“This approach will build capacity and empower the local community to protect their own ‘backyard’ with residents becoming active participants, developing a strong sense of ownership and belonging.

“We hope the engagement process with stakeholders will continue and the masterplan for the geopark is developed through consensus and based on sustainability,” said Leela.

Taman Melawati Residents Association chairman Azhari Abd Taharim said that emphasis should also be placed on protecting the geosites.

“Take the Bukit Tabur area for example, which is part of the Gombak Selangor Quartz Ridge.

“There are many individually-owned plots of land near the ridge.

“As they are designated as agricultural land, the owners could possibly set up orchards and fruit farms or decide to change the land status and develop it in the future.

“Perhaps small-scale agriculture development could work but large-scale ones would certainly jeopardise the integrity of the ridge as well as the safety of residents,” he said.

Azhari added that Ampang Jaya Municipal Council must have stringent monitoring mechanisms in place to preserve the site.

“It is high time we protected the ridge and its surrounding areas,” he said.

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