The project took place on the island of Borneo and aimed towards securing new conservation areas and forest corridors in one of the world’s most significant rainforests under threat: The Maliau Basin.
Situated in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo is the Maliau Basin, also known as “The Lost World of Sabah”.
A biological hotspot under threat
This completely untouched and isolated area was not discovered until 1947, when a plane nearly crashed against the rugged cliffs surrounding this almost-circular area of 59,000 hectares.
Scientific exploration has since established Maliau as a global biodiversity hotspot, home to more than 270 bird species, many of which are IUCN Red Listed species. BirdLife International has designated it an Important Bird Area (IBA), marking its importance within global biodiversity conservation.
Besides this, vast stocks of carbon are stored in its trees and soil, which only underlines its environmental importance. Failing to secure this carbon reserve will further fuel climate change.
Palm oil plantations are spreading in Borneo
It is no secret that the ancient rainforest in Sabah – and more widely Borneo and the whole Southeast Asian region – has seen the destructive effects of heavy logging and conversion to other land-uses, such as palm oil.
The Maliau Basin has escaped these threats thanks to the establishment and implementation of a robust management plan in 2003, but surrounding and neighbouring forest areas are being degraded losing their natural wildlife.
In 2014, the project updated the existing management plan. The updated plan also serves to strengthen the conservation and restoration of the surrounding buffer zone, and the establishment of forest corridors between the remaining forest reserves.
Engaging with stakeholders such as national and regional authorities, NGOs, local communities, farmers and forest managers was central to a successful planning and implementation of the updated management plan.
NEPCon took the lead on the process planning and worked with local experts. Local expertise were provided by the Sabah Foundation, a public foundation in Malaysia chaired by the Chief Minister of the State of Sabah.
Being the owner of 1 million hectares of forestland covering the Maliau Basin and surrounding areas, Sabah Foundation has set aside significant forest areas, implemented conservation measures and adapted logging techniques to establish conservation areas and corridors. They have spearheaded forest restoration projects involving the replanting of indigenous tree species at several sites in Sabah.
The Sabah Foundation is supported by the Maliau Basin Management Committee, a multi-stakeholder group including various governmental agencies, local stakeholders, NGOs, research institutions and other bodies with an interest in the Maliau Basin.
Results and impact
Beyond updating the existing management plan – which covers the period of 2014 to 2023 – the project aimed to enlarge the Maliau Basin Conservation Area (MBCA).
It also planned to establish protected forest corridors between the Basin and nearby conservation areas Danum Valley and Imbak Canyon as well as WWF’s initiative “The Heart of Borneo”.
The project supported the designation of a further 54,000 ha of Forest Class I Reserve areas in 2013 -14, which had been set aside as future strictly protected forest areas adjacent to the existing Conservation Area.
These areas were assigned to be developed as plantations very close to the border of the MBCA. Such a development would have left the MBCA as an isolated island in a sea of plantations poor on biodiversity and lacking the natural forest's strong capacity to lock carbon. The protection of the buffer zone areas will contribute significantly to the long-term conservation of the Maliau Basin Conservation Area.
The project also supported the Malaysian governments’ efforts to have the entire area around the Maliau Basin designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Parts of the new buffer zone will be subject to forest rehabilitation with planting of indigenous tree species, provided that the needed funding is found.
Establishing natural pathways for wildlife and plants to migrate and disperse between “safe havens” is an essential part of any future conservation strategy. The regeneration of forest in corridors on logged areas will also serve as a carbon sink.