Special unit to manage new Unesco-designated Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) board has approved the formation of the unit and second staff to manage Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) board has approved the formation of the unit and second staff to manage Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

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GEORGE TOWN, Sept 16 — The Penang government will form a special management unit to manage the state’s second Unesco-designated site, the Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve (PHBR).

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) board has approved the formation of the unit and second staff to manage PHBR.

“We have experiences from managing our George Town World Heritage Site and these experiences can be used to manage the PHBR,” he said during a press conference announcing PHBR’s designation by the International Coordinating Council of Unesco's Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB-ICC) yesterday.

With the designation, Chow said Penang Hill is set to become a global centre for biodiversity research.

“Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve will be the stepping stone for the state to embark on sustainable ecotourism in the state,” he said.

He said it will also serve as a fine example for other states in terms of implementing green practices to improve quality of life and provide better opportunities for the people.

PHC general manager Datuk Cheok Lay Leng said that as the designation was under the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme, the focus will be on finding solutions to balance sustainable development and natural resources.

“Moving forward, it is part of our plan to set up more biosphere activities and programmes to drive sustainable economic activities in and around Penang Hill area,” he said.

He said the designation did not mean a total stop to all human activities in the designated area but to find a harmonious balance between conserving the natural assets and human activities.

Cheok also said the application for this designation was a long journey involving various agencies and bodies.

“PHC is truly thankful to the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, federal and state agencies, the academics, The Habitat Group, and all who helped make this possible,” he said.

Meanwhile, state exco Jagdeep Singh Deo has appealed to Putrajaya to provide funding to Penang Hill so that it could maintain the designation.

“We have to ensure that we can maintain the designation and we need to have some form of assistance from the federal government so we want to appeal to the federal government to give the state some financial aid,” he said.

He said everyone on Penang Hill, including The Habitat, has suffered from the Covid-19 pandemic and the federal government should look into providing some funding to help.

Jagdeep also said the review of the Special Area Plan for Penang Hill is now in its final stages and will soon be gazetted by the end of this year.

There are a total 714 biosphere reserves in 129 countries in the world and Penang Hill will be the third biosphere reserve in Malaysia with the two others listed being Tasik Chini, which received the recognition in 2009, and Crocker Range in Sabah, which received it in 2014.

The PHBR measures 12,481ha, which encompasses 7,285ha of terrestrial ecosystem and 5,196ha of marine ecosystem.

The areas covered include Penang Hill, Penang National Park, Marine Park, Penang Botanic Gardens, six permanent forest reserves, Teluk Bahang Dam, Ayer Itam Dam and eight water catchment areas.

The core area includes four main regions namely Penang National Park, six permanent forest reserves, the water catchment areas and two dams.

The buffer zone is 50m inside and around the core zone for inland, which covers about 526ha, and 0.5 nautical miles outside marine boundary which covers about 1,687ha of marine area.

There will be a transition zone between the core zone and buffer zone which covers mostly the water catchment areas and about 80 per cent of the area is private lands.

The idea to nominate Penang Hill as a Unesco biosphere reserves was first mooted back in 2016 when the first Bioblitz programme was held at The Habitat together with researchers from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) on the hill.

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