Dr Waidi Sinun, Yayasan Sabah's Conservation and Environment Management Division Manager, said the Imbak Canyon probably represents the last opportunity for the State Government to conserve an area that is pristine, rich in biodiversity and unique in terms of geological and geomorphologic attributes.
With a total area of about 30,000ha including two ridge-top virgin jungle reserves, the canyon makes a significant contribution to the coverage of protected areas in Sabah.
"It is the last remaining contiguous area of unlogged lowland dipterocarp forest left in Sabah, a truly priceless heritage," he said at the Imbak Canyon Scientific Expedition Seminar at Promenade Hotel, Monday.
In order to manage such an area effectively, he said one of the first agenda is to conduct inventory and research on the biodiversity found therein.
The expedition from Nov 25 to Dec 5 last year has done just that, he said.
But the time the scientists spent in Imbak Canyon was simply inadequate, he said, adding that within five days they were there, they identified more than 50 plants with medicinal values, many of whom are used extensively by the locals to treat illnesses or common sickness.
"There are many things in there that are not found elsewhere in the State such as the diversity of medicinal plants," he said.
He said that there were also plants normally growing at 1,000m above sea level such as those in Mount Kinabalu and Crocker Range which were found growing at 600m above sea level in Imbak.
"That is why we have geologists and botanists to look at why this is soÉand if they can find out why, then Imbak will become more special than other areas," he said.
All this, he said, makes it even more crucial to conserve the flora and fauna-rich Imbak Canyon. Dr Waidi also said the expedition was very important because Imbak Canyon was only made into a conservation area in 2004.
Immediately after the rainforest there attained the conservation area tag, he said Yayasan Sabah took the initiative to engage Academy Sciences Malaysia (ASM) with the inking of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
"Historically we learn from what we did in Danum Valley in 1980.
Now we have the opportunity to do something in Imbak that would be very much flavoured by local scientists," he said.
The work in Imbak, he said, is not meant to compete with what is being carried out in Danum but merely as a cooperation to achieve the common goal.
Imbak, he said, is not only beautiful and diverse but more importantly, it also has the social element that Danum Valley does not have.
Mount Kuli where the scientists carried out their expedition has never been explored, he said.
"New species there have already been collected but many are still waiting to be identified."
To this, he said the MoU between Yayasan Sabah (YS) and ASM, aims to among others, build capacity among local researchers and scientists and to create the next generation of highly capable researchers such as those in developed nations.
The expedition saw participation of about 100 researchers and scientists representing almost all relevant organisations and institutions in the country.
On Imbak viewed as the last remaining gene bank in Sabah, Dr Waidi said the area conserves some flora and fauna not found elsewhere in the State.
On other developments, he said YS has plans to establish a permanent base camp for scientists to stay longer to carry out their research.
"We are going to construct the Imbak Canyon Study Centre and we already have permission to do so," he said.
The camp or station that the expedition established including the Mount Kuli research station would be improved further and turned into a satellite station.
"We want to ensure Malaysian scientists when carrying out research in Imbak are given one of the best facilities possible.
There would be a major headquarters' building there including an administrative area, study centre and a full-fledged laboratory.
There would be also several research stations within and around Imbak.
Thus, he said, that the expedition is important towards formulating the management plan of Imbak that has yet to be done.
Dr Waidi said the infrastructure at Imbak would be established within this year.
He said national oil company Petronas is involved in the establishment of the plan, adding that recently a premier local institution gave YS RM6 million to help the organisation prepare the development of the research centre.
"We hope other local organisations will contribute towards the actual construction of the research centre building and satellite stations as well," he said, adding the infrastructure would cost up to RM30 million to build.