It is no mistake that two of the 2021 Sustainable Tourism Grants are to empower initiatives being spearheaded by young people who are conservation leaders and represent the next generation of decision makers. Giving them the exposure, skills and encouragement they need now will help them demonstrate their capabilities and lay the foundation for future impact. We are delighted to be working with Kelab Alami Mukim Tanjung Kupang in Johor, and the new Rapid Response Conservation Unit of Fuze Ecoteer in the Perhentian Islands of Terengganu.
Fuze Ecoteer (FE) has been working in the Perhentian Islands since 2007 and has run environmentally-focused school programmes since 2010. Its work in Perhentian is part of a larger project in collaboration with Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) and NOAA to develop the management plan for the Perhentian Islands on behalf of the Marine Park Division. FE is the on-ground partner with the role of actively consulting and involving the local stakeholders to get their input.
The Perhentian Islands are home to abundant marine life but the hard-coral cover has declined from 50.5% in 2016 to 35% in 2019 (Reef Check Malaysia, 2019). Uncontrolled tourism has had a role in this. There is a need to socialize more eco-conscious tourism practices among locals and visitors alike to help reduce heavy impact on the marine environment.
The Sustainable Tourism Grant awarded to Fuze Ecoteer will be used to establish and train a youth-led Rapid Response Conservation Unit. This Conservation Unit is expected to play an important role in the future management of the islands. The Conservation Unit would assist Fuze Ecoteer in managing the Reef Care site at Teluk Keke and the Village beach. Local eco-snorkel guides will also focus on developing new snorkel tours that promote good snorkelling behaviours. This will play a role in encouraging greater awareness and more conscientious practices among locals and visitors alike.
A portion of the budget will be allocated to seed a conservation fund which will be used to fund rapid response conservation needs such as boat fuel to remove ghost nets from the reef. These rapid response interventions are beneficial to all tourism businesses on the island.
New co-management initiatives with the Department of Fisheries through the project are a step in the right direction and are giving local people the opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of local community empowerment.
By strengthening capacity for introducing better ecotourism experiences in the marine environment, the project aims to reduce impact on the coral and marine life from mass tourism. Fuze Ecoteer is convicted that once the Rapid Response Conservation Unit has had the opportunity to operate and demonstrate its value it will be able generate sustainable finance from resorts and tourism players on the island.
Kelab Alami has active in Tanjung Kupang for over 12 years. They have focussed their focus on enabling the coastal community of this area to understand and appreciate the natural habitats in their backyard. Over time they have been able to use this knowledge to earn supplementary incomes in the face of depleting traditional livelihoods based on fisheries. The ultimate aim has been to strengthen capacity within the local villages for community management and conservation of the area. They are well known for their seagrass, island, and mangrove habitat immersion tours, as well as village cycling, river and market tours and cooking classes. Their proximity to the cities of Johor Baru and Singapore make them well-suited for education programmes and field visits.
More recently, Kelab Alami has been given the opportunity to refurbish an abandoned building and site owned by the Johor Port Authority (LPJ) with funding from the Iskandar Region Development Authority (IRDA). This will become the Kelab Alami Nature & Heritage Centre which is due to be ready by January 2021.
The grant will enable them to train more youth guides to better share their natural & cultural heritage with guests. It will also enable them realise the vision of local people leading habitat co-management efforts by bringing together multiple stakeholders at the new Nature & Heritage Centre to co-create and commit to a conservation management plan. The plan will be an important framework for future ecotourism plans and ensure that the community can constructively participate in it for their long-term livelihoods and benefit.
The Habitat Foundation is honoured to support Kelab Alami at this exciting milestone in their journey which has been many years in the making. Young people are now poised to fully take ownership and drive the conservation, education, and livelihood programmes in Tanjung Kupang.