Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre: Promoting Conservation through Education and Restoration

Affectionately known as "KK", bustling Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah and the hub of tourism in Malaysian Borneo.  Visitors from around the world use KK as the center point for visiting variety of attractions Sabah has to offer including biologically rich islands, and national parks. Situated just two kilometers from  the  main city, the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre (KKWC) covers 24 hectares of mangrove forest that once existed extensively along the coastal region of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. The center is used primarily as a model wetland for the purpose of conservation, education, recreation and research. KKWC is managed by a local NGO, “Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society” (SWCS), which advocates environmental conservation and awareness on wetland ecosystems found in Sabah as well as in the other parts of Malaysia.

I got the opportunity to visit KKWC as a participant to the recently held Asian Wetland Symposium. The 45-minute or 1.5 km early morning stroll on the boardwalk was a very pleasant experience where you can enjoy fresh air and tranquility, while spotting multitude of interesting birds including the collared kingfisher, which is not recorded from Sri Lanka. The Centre is an important refuge and feeding ground for many species of resident birds, as well as several migratory bird species. The total of bird species observed at KKWC so far is around 83 species from 31 families.  The highest abundance of bird groups recorded are residents such as egrets, herons, storks and bitterns, which are usually easy to be spotted as they fly over the mangroves or while feeding in the exposed mud flats.

The mangroves serve as a green lung for the city and its location is strategic for environmental education, urban recreation and eco tourism. Further, as a natural flood retention area, KKWC plays a major role for the city of Kota Kinabalu, preventing possible downstream flooding, removing toxicants and recycling nutrients. It is also a nursery ground for many ocean fish species. A water quality monitoring program presently being conducted and the information collected allows scientists of “Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society” (SWCS) to strategize with the appropriate mitigation measures to combat water pollution. Because of its close proximity to the city, the wetland is subjected to development pressure. Other processes affecting the quality of water at KKWC include domestic wastewater and seawater intrusion.

Previously known as Likas Mangroves, the area was first designated a bird sanctuary by the Sabah state government in September 1996 in order to foster a better understanding and awareness on the value of wetlands. Under the directive of the then Chief Minister of Sabah, “Likas Wetlands Sanctuary Managing Committee” (LWSMC), an innovative and unique public-private-NGO- community partnership, was established during the same year. The principle purpose of LWSMC was to oversee and coordinate development, planning and management of the Bird Sanctuary. This committee was made up of 16 component members including government agencies, private organizations, community groups and local NGOs, each separately constituted and registered.

With the formation of Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society in August 22, 2005, LWSMC was officially dissolved to make way for SWCS to manage KKCS.  This society is governed by a Management Committee and a Board of Trustees as regulated in its constitution. With KKWC as the successful model SWCS plan to embark on restoration of degraded mangrove sites throughout Sabah in collaboration with forward thinking private sector organizations such as HSBC. Further SWCS together with State run Sabah Biodiversity center are currently working towards obtaining Ramsar designation of KKWC as a wetland of International importance.

In Sri Lanka we have few mangrove areas promoting education and restoration activities such as the Kadol Kelle at Negambo lagoon run by NARA and the Mangrove Resource Center run by the Small Fishers’ Federation at Pambala.  Recently Forest Department too has taken an interest and has established a center at Pubudugama in the vicinity of Puttalam estuary.  Only by joining hands with public and private entities we can take these initiatives forward in a more positive manner.

Visit SWCS web site here

Report and photos: Nishanthi Perera

[Nishanthi is currently doing her PhD at University of Colombo on “Policies on marine and coastal protected areas in Sri Lanka”. She presented a paper titled “Policy decisions and their consequences: The Bundala wetland case study, Sri Lanka” at the Asian Wetland Symposium 2011.]

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