First hurdle of Unesco biosphere reserve bid cleared


Selling point: The recognition will help Penang Hill to attract more visitors, says Chow.

GEORGE TOWN: The application to have Penang Hill and its surrounding areas declared as Unesco biosphere reserve has been signed by the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry.

The ministry will then submit the application to the Malaysian National Commission for Unesco (MNCU) with the deadline being end of this month.

Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) general manager Datuk Cheok Lay Leng said it could take between one and two years for the application to be processed and experts from Unesco may visit Penang Hill during this time.

The Unesco committee will have to do the assessment as there may be other applicants.

“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they may not be able to send anybody here to look at Penang Hill.

“We will be following up very closely to speed up the process,” he said to reporters at the Hillside Retreat Bungalow launching ceremony at Penang Hill on Saturday.

Cheok said his team completed the first version of the application in 2017, but missed the deadline for submission because of the long and tedious approval process.

“There are many agencies that need to sign and the application has to be approved by the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry before it is submitted to Unesco,” he said.

The proposed Unesco biosphere reserve is about 12,480ha covering Penang Hill as a central park, Teluk Bahang National Park and Marine Park, as well as Penang Botanic Gardens.

According to the Unesco website, biosphere reserves are areas comprising terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems.

Each reserve promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.

At present, Unesco’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves lists 701 in 124 countries, including 21 trans-boundary sites.

Malaysia has two biosphere reserves – Tasik Chini and the Crocker Range.

Unesco biosphere reserve is recognised by how human and economic activities can coexist with nature.

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, who was at the event, said the recognition would benefit all Penangites and become another selling point for Penang Hill to attract more visitors.

He hoped the recognition of Penang Hill and its surrounding areas as Unesco biosphere reserve would have the same effect as Unesco George Town world heritage site, which had boosted the tourism sector and attracted more international tourists before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Chow said the Hillside Retreat Bungalow is the first heritage building restoration project at Penang Hill aimed at making it a “must visit” place in Malaysia and Asia.

Inspired by British colonial designs, there are three packages at the Hillside Retreat Bungalow namely the bunker zone, camping zone and boutique zone.

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