Friday, 1st February, 2002
Vital To Manage Eco-Tourism Wisely: Karim
By Elizabeth Majaham

Kota Kinabalu: Ecotourism in wetlands requires a deeper understanding of the wetlands environment and its many functions, said Assistant Minister of Tourism, Environment Science and Technology Datuk Karim Bujang.

"It can provide great benefits if prudently managed, but will be irreversibly damaged and functions degraded if its resources are poorly developed, managed and used," he said.

For effective management, he said varying needs of different uses by different stakeholders need to be integrated.

"This is crucial to ensure that the Kinabatangan River which supplies water to communities and industries in the area is not polluted and degraded, and that the forests acting as a buffer zone to minimise flood agricultural lands and villages remain intact," he added.

Karim said this in his speech while officiating the Forum on Sustainable Management of Ecotourism In Wetlands: The Case of Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain, at Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort here Thursday.

He said a healthy environment needs to be maintained for plants and animals to thrive, for they constitute the "treasures" which provide the base for exemplary ecotourism development on the Kinabatangan.

"All these resources and their benefits need to be managed wisely for eco-tourism to succeed. A well-managed ecotourism industry provides an important option for economic diversification that combines conservation principles and workable business strategies," he said.

He said his Ministry encourages and promotes development in Sabah but that such development must be sustainable, orderly and respects the resources that are used.

"We would like to succeed in these objectives not only in the Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain but also for other tourism initiatives which depend on the natural environment as its principal source of income.

"The natural environment is not inexhaustible. Without guidelines and mechanism for appropriate enforcement, the environment can be degraded and ineffective for perform even the most basic functions such as to supply clean water and food. The degradation of this natural environment will not only have a profound adverse impact on the future of any tourism initiative in the area but also on its life-supporting functions," he said.

According to Karim, the Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain has been identified as one of the top 10 eco-tourism sites in Malaysia under the National Ecotourism Plan commisioned by the Ministry of cCulture, Arts and Tourism in 1995.

He said its density of rare and unique wildlife species such as the Orang Utan, proboscis monkey, elephants and myriad species of birds have made the Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain a veritable ecotourism goldmine not only for Sabah but also the whole of Malaysia.

"Its potential for ecotourism and other life-supporting values in the area has contributed to the gazettement of 26,000 hectares of forests flanking the river to be protected as the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary," he said.
He said the Forum was, therefore, timely and appropriate at this critical stage of the development of the Kinabatangan.
The forum, organised by Institute For Development Studies (IDS) Sabah, Partners For Wetlands Programme World Wide Fund For Nature Malaysia and Sabah Wildlife Department, is sponsored by Kondar Adenauer Foundation, Federal Republic of Germany.

The workshop will examine the mechanisms that have been carefully formulated through the Wildlife Management Plan and WWF - Partners for Wetlands Concept to bring about greater benefits to all stakeholders. These will cover implementation of rules and regulations, the means to monitor and ways to establish working partnerships.