The hills and the coast of Penang have always been important to Penang’s communities. The Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve which encompasses these natural areas are a vital green lung to Penang Island; they provide valuable ecosystem services, spaces for recreation, and support the local economy. The nomination of the Penang Hill UNESCO Biosphere Reserve celebrates Penang’s distinctive natural and social landscapes and emphasizes an ongoing commitment to achieving a balance between nature conservation and development through sustainable use.
The Habitat Foundation and The Habitat Penang Hill are proud to be supporting the initiative of the Penang State Government to nominate the area shown in the map under the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme. This biodiversity-rich landscape comprises the hill forest of Penang Hill which extends all the way to the lowland dipterocarp forest and coastal zone within Penang National Park, and then a further 1.5 nautical miles into the sea. This area is protected within existing Forest Reserves, water catchment areas, and the park.
It comprises 12,481 hectares of which 7,285 hectares is on land, and 5,196 hectares is marine.
BIODIVERSITY AT OUR DOORSTEP
The Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve consists of important natural habitats with high species richness and diversity. Based on biodiversity data gathered to date, 2456 species of plants from 206 families are found here. Around 20 are on the IUCN Red List, including four that are listed as Critically Endangered.
More than 550 animal species have been recorded within the proposed Biosphere Reserve. Endemic and endangered fauna known from this area include marine species such as sea turtles and the shore-near Irrawaddy dolphin. On land, some of the important terrestrial species are the pangolin, slow loris, and the endemic Penang Island rock gecko.
In January 2016, The Habitat Penang Hill was opened. This world-class rainforest discovery and interpretation centre provides opportunities for panoramic views of the magnificent rolling hills of untouched forest from its iconic canopy walkways, as well as magical encounters with biodiversity along its nature trails.
PENANG HILL: A LINK TO THE PAST, A VANTAGE POINT TO TIMELESS RAINFOREST
In 1786, Penang Island became the first British acquisition on the Malay Peninsula. As the oldest British hill station in South-East Asia, for over a century, Penang Hill served as a retreat of elegant bungalows where people could escape the hot, humid, coastal lowlands with views into the pristine rainforest. Bel Retiro, the governor’s mansion was one of the first bungalows built on the hill in the early 1800s. Early naturalists would explore the surrounding forest to collect amphibians, reptiles, and insects, and plant specimens for herbariums and living collections. These would prove to become important first records of the biodiversity of Peninsular Malaysia.
Since it was first completed in 1923, the Penang Hill Funicular Railway has provided a means to escape to the refreshing cool of the hills. Since then, the train system has continued to improve in terms of speed, technology, and capacity. As in ages past, the train and its schedule continue to define the rhythm of daily life on the hill.
Today, the Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) manages the operations of the historical funicular railway, the top station and surrounding areas on Penang Hill. PHC’s mission statement states that “PHC is committed to the preservation and stewardship of the natural and historical heritage of Penang Hill through Conservation, Education, Eco-tourism, Innovation, Safety and Green practices for future generations.”
Penang Hill Corporaion is leading the nomination of the Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve on behalf of the state government. PHC also runs programmes that showcase both the historical and natural heritage of the Hill.
THE HISTORIC BOTANIC GARDENS OF PENANG
The Penang Botanic Gardens was established in 1884 on a 29 hectare valley with a forest backdrop and a magnificent cascading waterfall. The gardens were planned and developed under the supervision of Charles Curtis, the first superintendent. The Gardens are an offshoot of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. As a tribute to his contributions to botanical exploration, several plants have been named after him.
The Gardens splendidly blend the botanical and horticultural aspects with the spectacular tropical rainforest landscape. They house an impressive collection of botanic specimens, both live and curated. It is an important site for research and education while being a much loved recreational area for local residents who frequent the Gardens in the early morning hours and evenings for light exercise or more strenuous hikes in the adjacent forest trails.
PENANG NATIONAL PARK: WHERE THE FOREST MEETS THE SEA
One of the crowning jewels of the Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve is Penang National Park which showcases wonderful examples of wetlands, mangroves, mudflats, coral reefs, and a unique sandy beach. Comprising only 1,213 hectares of land and sea, the park is an exceptionally rich and accessible biodiversity site. It is known to house 417 flora and 143 fauna species. Turtles nest on this beach all year round and there is a turtle sanctuary here which is managed by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. The meromictic lake within the park is the only one of its kind in Malaysia. It is composed of unmixed freshwater on top and seawater below, each supporting its own fascinating mini-ecosystem.
Muka Head Lighthouse, a 14-meter granite tower built by the British in 1883 is an example of built heritage within the park. The Lighthouse continues to serve as a beacon to assist incoming ships approaching Penang Island from the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca.
The park makes an important contribution to conservation, environmental education, public recreation and Penang’s vibrant nature-based tourism economy.
SAFEGUARDING ESSENTIAL ECOSYSTEM SERVICES
The Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve provides ecosystem services that are essential to the well-being and quality of life for all Penang residents. Clear streams originating in the hills flow into the Teluk Bahang and Air Itam dams, which supply water to the whole of Penang Island. Environmental or ecosystem services such as watershed and water-catchment, carbon sequestration, soil stabilisation, climate change mitigation are hallmark features of the proposed reserve.
The mangroves of the coastal core zone of the PHBR are excellent pollutant purifiers and sinks for water borne pollutants from the inland areas. The mangrove soils and roots fringing the Penang National Park and adjoining areas trap polluted materials from inland activities, immobilize nutrients from the rivers flowing into it. The strong roots and buttress systems of the mangroves plants also form a natural buffer between land and sea helping to dissipate intense winds and wave action.
The marine component of the Biosphere Reserve harbours an abundant diversity of commercially important organisms, including bivalves, molluscs and fishes which are particularly important for the local economy.
SUSTAINING A VIBRANT SOCIAL LANDSCAPE AND ECONOMIC ACTIVITY
The Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve supports the livelihood of a coastal community who have a long tradition of tapping into the rich marine resources for their socio-economic needs. Artisanal fishing is carried out along the coast using traditional fishing gear and low powered engine boats. The fishermen also supplement their income by participating in the tourism industry as guides and boatmen.
A small agricultural community has resided on Penang Hill for generations. Mainly accessed from the Middle Station, their produce of fruits and vegetables are important to the food supply of Penang. Farmers here are also very keen to enhance the sustainability of their farms. There is considerable interest in adopting more environmentally-friendly water and soil technologies for their daily operations and participating in trials of alternative farming approaches.
Local people have also observed the impacts of climate change and are want to partner with others to ensure that their farms remain resilient and productive. This is something that can be explored as part of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere programme.
A PLACE FOR STUDYING SUSTAINABILITY
The Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve has the potential to become an important learning site for trialing and introducing more sustainable practices to assure a balance between conserving and utilizing biodiversity. Ecosystem services directly benefit the local community in terms of employment in the tourism, fisheries, agricultural or forestry sectors. The presence of one of Asia’s top 50 universities, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), and other research institutes including the World Fish Centre and the Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies in the vicinity of the PHBR, furnishes research and educational logistics to reconcile the conservation and socio-economic functions within the UNESCO Man and Biosphere framework.
Strong support from the Penang state government in sustainable issues is promoted through its Penang Green Agenda (PGA). This area can serve as a demonstration site for the utilisation of green technologies and dissemination of environmental innovations.
List of Agencies & Organisation involved
|1||PENANG HILL CORPORATION|
|2||THE HABITAT FOUNDATION|
|3||THE HABITAT PENANG HILL|
|4||UNIVERSITI SAINS MALAYSIA PULAU PINANG|
|5||PENANG ISLAND CITY COUNCIL|
|6||PENANG GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION SYSTEM (PeGIS)|
|7||PENANG BOTANICAL GARDEN|
|8||PENANG FORESTRY DEPARTMENT|
|9||PENANG NATIONAL PARK|
|10||PENANG FISHERIES DEPARTMENT|
|11||FISHERIES RESEARCH INSTITUTE, BATU MAUNG|
|12||PENANG LAND OFFICE (NORTHEAST DISTRICT)|
|13||PENANG LAND OFFICE (NORTHWEST DISTRICT)|
|14||PENANG LAND AND MINE OFFICE|
|15||DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE AND NATIONAL PARKS|
|16||PENANG TOWN AND RURAL PLANNING DEPARTMENT|
|17||STATE HERITAGE DEPARTMENT|
|18||DEPARTMENT OF SURVEY AND MAPPING|
|19||DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS|
|20||DEPARTMENT OF IRRIGATION AND DRAINAGE|
|21||PENANG WATER SUPPLY DEPARTMENT|
|22||PBA PULAU PINANG|
|23||PENANG GREEN COUNCIL|
|25||PNK TLK BAHANG|
|26||GEORGE TOWN WORLD HERITAGE INCORPORATED PULAU PINANG|
Penang Hill Corporation is leading this initiative of nomination of UNESCO Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme on behalf of the Penang State Government. The initiative is funded and supported by The Habitat Penang Hill and The Habitat Foundation.
- Hornbills and Orang Asli Communities – farmers of the forestJanuary 5, 2021The Habitat Foundation is proud to provide a grant to the Malaysian Nature Society towards implementing a pilot initiative under its longstanding Hornbill Conservation Project to develop a community nursery that stocks hornbill (and other wildlife) resource plants and trees. The nurseries will be developed with Orang Asli from Kampung Chuweh in the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex. Investing in building local capacity for Sustainable Tourism Advancing research in the proposed Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve Hornbills and Orang Asli Communities – farmers of the forest Register now for Cornell Lab Sound Analysis workshop, Jan 2021 Get involved in The Habitat Restoration Initiative...
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- The Habitat Team plants mangrove trees at Sungai AchehFebruary 23, 2020Every year, the funicular train that takes visitors and workers up Penang Hill is temporarily closed for nine days of routine maintenance works. This year, during the train shutdown, 40 staff from The Habitat Penang Hill and The Habitat Foundation travelled to Sungai Acheh to plant 150 mangrove saplings and get stuck into wetland restoration work with local experts! Gathering in the Mangrove Forest Education Centre, we listened to Mr. Ilias Shafie, the chairman of PIFWA (Penang Inshore Fishermen’s Welfare Association) who shared how the organization came to into being. We learned about their ongoing efforts to help people understand the importance of mangroves for marine life, coastal protection and carbon sequestration. Wetlands are mainly threatened by pollution, overharvesting, and conversion for agriculture and aquaculture. In 1997, PIFWA began championing wetland restoration to reverse the impacts of coastal degradation and its negative impacts on local fisheries resources. They started by conducting surveys, and experiment with developing nurseries for mangrove seedlings of different species. Their reputation as community experts in mangrove rehabilitation has grown ever since. They now boast and aroboretum of as many as 14 species of mangrove trees, Replanting mangrove species used for soil protection, producing food products, and craft-making is now one of their major activities. Following the talk, the team headed down the boardwalk and into the mud, which was initially dry and compact, but eventually became wetter and deeper. After arriving at the planting site, they began digging suitable-sized holes before carefully removing the saplings from the polyethene nursery bags, placing them inside, compacting the mud around them and repeating the process until all 150 were planted. As a result of PIFWA’s activities, 347,900 mangroves have been replanted in Penang, with a 90% survival rate. Over the years, their experience has shown that rehabilitating wetlands, such as degraded mangroves, is beneficial in the long run as the improved ecosystem has regenerated disappearing species, thus reviving its biodiversity along with acting as a major carbon sink. Their mangrove replanting initiative also helps protect coastlines from erosion and damage by tidal surges, currents, rising sea level, and storm energy in the form of waves, storm surges and wind. Furthermore, it plays a role in supporting good water quality and marine life, including commercial fish and crustaceans, thus helping sustain local abundance of fish and shellfish populations. On the way back to the education centre, some of the staff spotted several species of wildlife including a Brahminy kite (Haliastur indus), white-throated kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis), Van Hasselt’s Sunbird (Leptocoma brasiliana), crab-eating macaques (Macaca fascicularis), green jewel bugs (chrysocoris stolli) and several species of fiddler crabs. A hearty meal of rice, curry fish, fried chicken, cooked vegetables and ulam with sambal, was served by the PIFWANITA, the women’s counterpart to PIFWA. The ladies contribute to their families’ livelihoods by catering for guests, and producing and promoting mangrove-based food products such as jams and herbal teas. Both organizations regularly travel to participate in exhibitions and environmental fairs where they talk about their experiences and promote their activities and products produced from mangroves. By raising the profile of Malaysia’s wetlands, and enlisting partners in local government as well as private sector companies operating in Penang, they have been pro-active in ensuring that these areas are constantly monitored leaving no opportunity for these wetlands to be illegally cleared or degraded. With persistence and curiosity, they have succeeded in cultivating experience and knowledge that is now actively shared with other coastal communities....