Tun Mustapha Park – an untapped ecotourism treasure chest | WWF Malaysia

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Tun Mustapha Park – an untapped ecotourism treasure chest

Kudat: Operators from the Sabah tourism industry visited potential ecotourism sites in the proposed Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) on 16 June 2011, organised by WWF-Malaysia

Kudat: Operators from the Sabah tourism industry visited potential ecotourism sites in the proposed Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) on 16 June 2011, organised by WWF-Malaysia. The visit aimed to increase the profile of the proposed TMP and to highlight the ecotourism potential of Balambangan and Maliangin islands, and Berungus. Exposure to these sites is intended to initiate ecotourism development that will generate sustainable livelihood for local communities and build support to fully protect Balambangan Island in the near future.

The proposed TMP within the Kudat-Banggi Priority Conservation Area (PCA) is one of three globally significant PCAs in Malaysia within the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME). It has Malaysia’s second largest concentration of coral reefs linked to complex habitats including primary rainforest, mangroves, and seagrass beds; and is home to 252 species of hard corals, 350 species of fish endangered green sea turtles and dugongs. Once gazetted, the proposed park measuring over 1 million hectares with 50 islands and more than 80,000 inhabitants will become Malaysia’s largest marine park.

Balambangan boasts of over 20 limestone caves with archaeological findings that date back to the Pleistocene (Pleisto - most; cene - recent) era (the Ice Age between 1.75 million to 11,000 years ago). The cave system houses intriguing chambers and limestone formations that have the potential to attract both local and foreign tourists.

Artefacts estimated to be 16,000 years old – found by researchers from the Malaysian Archaeological Research Centre (PPAM) of Universiti Sains Malaysia in August 1997 – highlight the cultural and historical importance of Balambangan. The findings included three prehistoric human bones and 36 items made out of animal bones believed to be tools used in the Pleistocene era. During the time of the findings, Datuk Dr Siti Zuraina Abdul Majid, PPAM Director, said the caves are the first historical site found in Sabah and can provide information on ancient human habitation and cultures.

“Balambangan has vast potential for ecotourism with the caves, beaches, culture, history, and many more that are yet to be discovered, making Balambangan unique,” says Mr. James Chew, a tour consultant. His trained eyes and keen ability to seek out interesting qualities of an area spotted an endemic limestone orchid, Paphiopedilum aanderianum (previously reported to be found only in Mulu caves, Sarawak) at Balambangan caves during the visit.

The tour operators also view both Maliangin and Berungus to be unique and having potential for ecotourism development with pristine beaches and diverse community and culture. While there is a vast potential for coastal and dive tourism in the area, the group identified the need for initial investment in developing support facilities for the industry. The ongoing planning for the proposed Tun Mustapha Park will provide opportunities to ensure these aspects are incorporated in the management plan for the proposed TMP.
 
“Any ecotourism initiative for these potential sites must be well planned and designed in order to bring benefits to all stakeholders without compromising the ecological integrity of the proposed TMP,” added Robecca Jumin, SSME Manager, WWF-Malaysia.

Tour operators on the TMP visit were Mr. Thomas Foo, Senior tour guide, Tropical Holidays Paradise Tours & Travel; Mr. Lee Thian Din, Senior tour guide,Tropical Holidays Paradise Tours & Travel; Mr. Eddie Chia, Consultant, Marketing & Promotion Department, Long Pasia Tourism Cooperation; Mr. Lim Boon Jau, Owner, Kinabalu Backpackers Lodge KK; Ms. Karen Chin, Vice president, Sabah Backpackers Association; Mr. Craig Sears, Marine Professional; Mr. James Chew and Ms. Mary Ann Degullacion Chew, Committee Members and Tour Guides, Sabah Tour Guide Association; Ms. Joanna Kitingan, Former President, Sabah Homestay Association and Advisor, Tambunan Homestay Programme; and Mr. William Chiang, Marketing Manager, Borneo Travel Guide.

WWF-Malaysia’s Kudat-Banggi PCA Project is partially funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The USAID administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide.

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Editor’s note:

WWF-Malaysia’s Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion Programme in Kudat-Banggi Priority Conservation Area (PCA) is currently implementing a project to facilitate collaborative management of fisheries and marine resources among stakeholders, which include government agencies, district offices, private sectors and local communities. Together with Sabah Parks, Department of Fisheries Sabah, Persatuan Pemilik Kapal Nelayan Kudat (Fishing Boat-owners Association), teachers, Kudat-Banggi, Marudu and Pitas District Offices, and Maliangin Island Community Association, WWF Kudat-Banggi PCA Team works on building support for the proposed multiple-use Tun Mustapha Park measuring over 1 million hectares.

The Kudat-Banggi PCA is one of three Globally Significant PCAs in Malaysia within the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME). It is has Malaysia’s second largest concentration of coral reefs linked to complex habitats including primary rainforest, mangroves, and seagrass beds; and is home to 252 species of hard corals, 350 species of fish endangered green sea turtles and dugongs. The SSME is located at the apex of the Coral Triangle.

The Coral Triangle—the nursery of the seas—is the most diverse marine region on the planet, matched in its importance to life on Earth only by the Amazon rainforest and the Congo basin. Defined by marine areas containing more than 500 species of reef-building coral, it covers around 6 million square kilometres of ocean across six countries in the Indo-Pacific – Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. For information go to: www.panda.org/coraltriangle 

For further information:
Angela Lim, SSME Senior Communications Officer
Tel: +60 88 262 420, Ext. 18
Email: ALim@wwf.org.my

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