KOTA KINABALU: A landmark project aims to increase Sabah's protected forest to 30% of the state's land area by 2025. More than 60 scientists from leading international universities are spearheading it.
The Sabah Forestry Department and South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) signed a memorandum of understanding for the project, which will draw top scientists to support the government's rainforest protection efforts.
The scientists, from leading universities in Britain, Europe, the United States, Australia and Malaysia, witnessed the signing ceremony held at the Cambridge Conservation Initiative's David Attenborough Building in England on Thursday.
Speaking at the opening of a related meeting on the science of tropical rainforest research, 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 hectares today.
"This is equivalent to 26% of the State's land area," he said.
This surpassed the International Union of Conservation of Nature and Aichi Biodiversity Target targets, he added.
In a speech released to the media here, Mannan said the Sabah government was committed to reaching its 2025 target.
"This will involve the protection of an additional one million acres (404,685ha) of rainforest in Sabah. The location of these new areas has yet to be identified. This is the work that lies ahead of us."
The landmark project is supported by the Rainforest Trust and based on the strategic partnership of the Sabah Forestry Department, SEARRP, the Carnegie Institution for Science, community-based organisation Pacos Trust, and BC Initiative.
SEARRP director Dr Glenn Reynolds, who is leading 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, he said, 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," he added.
"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," he added.
"This project presents a unique window of opportunity to catalyse world-leading science and protect an additional one million acres of rainforest – forest that will otherwise face mounting and very imminent threats," he said.
The event was officiated by Prince William and also attended by prominent scientists, philanthropies, NGOs and interested parties.