Kota Kinabalu: All sensitive and high quality environmental areas in Sabah have been identified, assessed and mapped.
But Town and Town and Regional Planning Department Director, Dr Adrian Chong Sui Chiang, said the degree of protection and conservation of these areas would depend on the concerted efforts of all stakeholders to ensure they are not adversely disturbed or destroyed.
Recently events showed that some stakeholders were deliberately destroying our natural environment, he said, adding awareness on this subject is therefore pertinent to the sustainability of the State's natural environment.
Dr Adrian said the method used for the demarcation project was based on the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) tool experienced in the Sandakan, Tuaran, Beaufort and Kuala Penyu districts.
This process involved a proactive approach in the documentation of natural environmental areas, with potential to steer developments away from such sensitive areas, to other most suitable and appropriate locations from a State perspective.
This is particularly important so as not to allow development go against nature, he said when giving a talk on Sabah's natural environmental assessment at a workshop organised by Sabah INTAN for government officials here.
Some of the main environmental areas were Ulu Padas, Klias Peninsular, Nabawan, Crocker Range Foothills, Lower Segama, Lower Sugut, Semporna Islands Park and Sungai Imbak Reserve.
Ulu Padas refers to the upper catchment of the Padas River, highland areas at elevations of 3,000 to over 6,000 feet above sea level.
Dr Adrian said the area contains forest types not found elsewhere in Sabah including exceedingly rare plants not found outside of Ulu Padas. The area is thought to be comparable to Kinabalu Park in terms of plant diversity.
"The high rainfall, dense network of streams and highly erodible soils indicate the importance of forest cover on the area's steep slopes to avoid negative impacts of flooding and erosion downstream," he said.
The Klias Peninsular is the largest remaining wetland area in the west coast of Sabah, located on the delta of the Padas and Bukau rivers. The area consists of several transitional wetland habitats comprising mangrove forest, Gymnostoma forest, nipah swamp, open swamp, riverine forest and mixed peat swamp forest (PSF).
PSF is an especially rare habitat that is becoming endangered in Sabah, he revealed, adding that these habitats provide a refuge for the endangered proboscis monkey, silvered leaf monkey and estuarine crocodile.
Dr Adrian said the peninsula contains areas important for many species of resident wetland birds as well as a diversity of migratory birds, including large numbers of ducks and certain globally threatened species such as Storm's Stork.
The Klias mangroves nurture the fisheries resources of Brunei Bay. The wetlands also play a role in flood mitigation and in preventing coastal erosion.
Dr Adrian said the Nabawan site was selected as it represents the only significant site for kerangas or heath forest in Sabah. Nabawan kerangas forest are outstanding as they support rich and spectacular orchid flora.
He said only the upper parts of the Crocker Range are contained within the Crocker Range Park (CRP). The foothills refer specifically to the hilly land from the base of the range to the CRP boundary.
"The Crocker Range is unique in Sabah in encompassing an undisturbed continuum of forest from true lowland dipterocarp forest below 152 metres altitude to montane forest above 1,220 metres. Some tree species are believed to be endemic to lowland and hill dipterocarp forests of north-western Borneo. It is believed that the area still harbours a breeding population of orang-utan," said Dr Adrian.
The Lower Segama site, he said, refers to the riverine strip sandwiched between two wildlife reserves in the east coast of Sabah - Kulamba Wildlife Reserve to the north and Tabin Wildlife Reserve to the south. Both these reserves are outstanding in that virtually all the State's large animal species occur here.
The Lower Segama is covered in logged freshwater swamp forest and there is evidence of intensive large mammal, primate and bird life in the area, including footprints of the Sumatran rhinoceros.
This provides evidence of the importance of the area as a forested corridor to facilitate the movement of wildlife between the two reserves, he said.
Lower Sugut, the lowland floodplain forest along the Sugut River in northeastern Sabah, contains an array of forest types such as riverine, freshwater swamp forest, kapur forest, lowland dipterocarp forest and east coast peat swamp forest, many of which are disappearing fast in other parts of the State.
Dr Adrian said the Semporna Island Park has been conserved by Sabah Parks, for which a management plan exists with maps and proposed zoning. The residents of two islands (Pulau Selakan and Pulau Sibankat) are included within the proposed park area.
The area owned by Safoda and Borneo Samudra is an important forest connection between upriver and downriver sections of the sanctuary, he said, adding since the area is generally unsuitable for agriculture it should be maintained under natural forest.
Sungai Imbak Reserve includes the narrow valley between the two existing ridge-top Virgin Jungle Reserves. Without the intervening valley, the function of the two VJRs would be seriously impaired.
Dr Adrian said preliminary surveys have been carried out by various scientists but as yet no overall management plan exists.
He said other protection and conservation areas include Pulau Banggi, Marudu Bay, Pulau Jambongan, Bukit Silam, Darvel Bay Islands, Binsuluk Forest Reserve - on the Klias Peninsular. This is one of the few remaining areas of peat swamp forest on the west coast and Danum Valley to Maliau.
"In carrying out the Statewide environmental assessment we realised and discovered that this manner of assessment is more appropriately termed as Natural Environmental Assessment (NEA) instead of SEA in as far as Sabah is concerned," said Dr Adrian.