KUCHING: Sarawak’s Maludam National Park, a globally significant peat swamp is a key part of the US$9.4 million (RM37.7 million) project to protect the park and its surrounding.
The project called ‘Sustainable Management of Peatland Ecosystems in Malaysia’ was approved in January 2018 by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in Washington DC.
This project is the culmination of three years of field trips, discussions with stakeholders, and approvals from government officials to include Maludam National Park as a globally important site. The project showcases the Sarawak government’s priority in protecting peat swamps in line with peat lands conservation worldwide.
“The Sarawak government’s vision in protecting the Maludam Peninsula is laudable, given both the unique and endangered wildlife, and critically important environmental protection functions”, said Dr Elizabeth Bennett, vice president of Wildlife Conservation Society and 2015 Merdeka Award Winner.
Her view was echoed by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Malaysia working in protected areas like Maludam National Park, a critical and globally significant peat swamp forest, which requires conservation efforts from all stakeholders.
Maludam National Park was officially gazetted as a Totally Protected Area in 2000 by then chief minister, Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.
The park covered an initial area of 43,147 hectares.
Due to its importance as a ‘single dome or independent peat basin’ peat swamp, and recognizing the environmental importance and sensitivity of such an extremely large and deep peat dome, the Sarawak government increased protection for the site by gazetting an extension of 10,421 hectares on 15th January 2015, signed by the chief minister then, the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem.
The park’s current size is 53,568 hectares, making it the largest patch of protected peat swamp in southern Borneo.
Conservation was also given a boost when the current Chief Minister Abang Johari Tun Openg indicated a willingness to continue the conservation strategy initiated by his predecessor.
The environmental sensitivity of peat swamps and the Maludam peninsula has been recognised since the mid-1990s.
In 1999, Sarawak’s State Planning Unit approved the “Integrated Development Plan Study for Coastal Peat Land in Sarawak” whereby the Maludam Peninsula was considered off limits to development as the independent peat basin was deemed ‘non-developable’ (SPU Technical Report, Volume 3, pages 151 -171).
This was substantiated by researchers in a subsequent study which reiterated ‘the Sg Maludam peat land can be regarded as a single ecohydrological unit in which the hydrology of one part has an influence on adjacent areas’ (Maludam Technical Report,page 35). Drainage of even one part of the dome is a threat as ‘the original ecosystem of the peat swamp will change radically and permanently because drainage bleeds the peat swamp, the very medium that is its basis of existence’ (Maludam Technical Report,page 37).
Numerous rare and endangered flora and fauna are found in Maludam National Park. The rarest is the red banded angur, one of Asia’s most endangered primates, with Maludam containing the only viable population in the world. Another notable primate is the proboscis monkey (a Sarawakian and Malaysian tourism icon).
The peat swamps and adjoining mangroves are also important nurseries to an endangered fish, the ‘terubok’.
About 13,000 villagers live in the Maludam peninsula. These villagers depend on water from the park as the forest is a natural water catchment. The peat swamp also serves as a crucial, natural flood mitigation tool and regulates the seasonal floods that affect the area.