The 1st National Protected Area Managers’ Conference held in Taman Negara National Park from 10-13 June 2014 was an important milestone for conservation in Malaysia. It was a rare occasion in which more than 100 protected area managers, conservation practitioners, policy makers and experts working on the frontlines of conservation could gather and explore issues of shared concern. The occasion provided a fertile ground for fruitful discussion and enabled participants from government, NGO and community sectors to gain a broader perspective of efforts being made nationwide to conserve Malaysia’s biodiversity.
The proceedings of the Conference may be downloaded here.
The conference was organized by the “Enhancing Effectiveness and Financial Sustainability of PAs in Malaysia” or PA Financing Project which is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN) is the implementing agency for the project which will conclude in 2019.
“The idea for holding a gathering of PA Managers was first mooted by protected area managers themselves at a Stakeholders’ Workshop held in 2013,” explains Dr. Sivananthan Elagupillay, who is the National Project Director. “Many expressed the need for greater interaction and experience sharing among conservation practitioners in Malaysia”. The conference was designed to address this need by providing a forum to encourage greater interaction, collaboration and mutual learning.
The honourable Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Y.B. Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, officially opened the conference. In his Welcome Address he said Malaysia’s protected areas are treasured national icons of natural beauty and applauded protected areas managers for their dedication and commitment, often enduring hardships and working in remote landscapes, to conserve our biodiversity resources.
“Protected areas managers have to be in the forefront of managing and projecting the multiple benefits of conserving protected areas. The protected areas that you manage for the country are also the source for clean drinking water, depositories for carbon, they help prevent disasters like floods and landslides and ensure food security by preserving wild genetic diversity, they improve people’s health by providing sources of medicines and clean air, and every year they attract thousands of visitors thus contributing to the fast-growing ecotourism economy of Malaysia,” he added.
The Minister expressed his appreciation for the PA Financing Project’s role in assisting the government in exploring options to ensure greater long term financial sustainability for protected areas in Malaysia. Conferences such as this one has a valuable role in exposing PA managers to contemporary strategies to approaching different challenges of PA management. Increasingly, effective PA management involves looking for innovative approaches to link protected areas to surrounding landscapes so that they are not managed in isolation. He highlighted the Central Forest Spine and the Heart of Borneo Initiatives as ongoing programmes supported by the Ministry to secure greater habitat connectivity in Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia.
In her Keynote Address, United Nations Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam, Michelle Gyles-McDonnough, spoke persuasively about the importance of recognizing the ways in which protected areas support sustainable human development especially in countries like Malaysia which is on its way to becoming a high income nation. Yet, natural disasters such as costly floods and the haze phenomenon which is now a regular occurrence in Southeast Asia are examples of how human development progress can be reversed if we do not have more concern and respect for our environment and use our resources sustainably.
“UNDP, consistent with our mission, insists that environmental conservation and protection is the foundation of sustainable human development. Human development, which is about expanding peoples choices, builds on shared natural resources and there is a fundamental injustice of one generation living at the expense of others. We can do much to ensure that our use of the world’s resources does not damage future opportunities – and we should,” she emphasized.
“UNDP supports countries in their efforts to achieve sustainable and equitable progress and our collaboration to enhance the management of protected areas through support for policy development and strengthening the capacities of institutions and individuals is one way in which we can do this.”
At the conference, participants had the opportunity to interact with distinguished national and international conservation specialists with extensive experience in protected area Management, collaborative research, training and capacity building, and mainstreaming biodiversity. Among them were experts from the Smithsonian Biodiversity Conservation Institute (SBCI), the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Southeast Asian office and E.C.O Ecology Institute of Austria.
Among the speakers were those presenting case studies of innovative projects to address the challenges of encroachment and habitat fragmentation in biodiversity significant landscapes. Many agencies and organizations are experimenting with new ways of working closely with local communities, stakeholders and private landholders. These included case studies of the work being done by the NGOs HUTAN and KOPEL in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain in Sabah, the Kinabalu EcoLinc initiative being pursued by Sabah Parks in the Kinabalu foothills, and new strategies by WWF Sarawak to enlist the commitment of large landholders to designate sections of the areas assigned to them for conservation.
The participants were very appreciative of the opportunity to meet with other PA Managers and conservation practitioners. An immediate output of the Conference was the formation of the Malaysian Protected Area Managers’ Forum, which is a discussion group for conservation practitioners and professionals which will be moderated by elected PA Managers which have been tasked with instituting the new forum as a fresh and accessible avenue for its members to share information and resources.
Participants were in favour of the conference being held biannually so that Malaysia’s progress towards improving the effectiveness of its Protected Area systems can be regularly benchmarked against previous assessments. There were also suggestions that more exchange visits between protected areas could be carried out to promote greater sharing of experience and best practices within the network. A Conference Report which captures some of the main recommendations from the various discussion groups is being prepared and will be made publicly available.
Taman Negara, Malaysia oldest National Park which encompasses 4,343 square kilometres of magnificent rainforest straddling the states of Kelantan Pahang and Terengganu, was a particularly auspicious venue for the conference as this year marks the 75th Anniversary of the establishment of the Park. To commemorate the Park’s Jubilee year, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks is working to promote a greater appreciation of the diverse ways in which Taman Negara safeguards Malaysia’s irreplaceable biodiversity heritage and protects essential ecosystem services. A video campaign encouraging Malaysians and international visitors alike to “Reconnect with nature at Taman Negara” was launched at the start of the conference.