Published on: Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Kota Kinabalu: Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) Vice President (Inbound), KL Tan, said the association is happy with the serious action against violation of riparian reserves taken by Culture, Tourism and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun and his Assistant Minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming.
"Based on the May 12 report in Daily Express which we have read, I think this will put back on track the conservation of the Kinabatangan River and also eco-tourism," he said.
"Matta believes we should continue to engage all the plantations to conserve and rehabilitate those riparian reserves," he said.
"While it involves cost, it's good for everyone in the tourism industry and also for the future generations, because Sabah must not only depend on plantations but also develop other industries like tourism so that it will continue to generate more income and local employment," he added.
Tan was commenting on the historic event last Saturday in Batu Puteh, Kinabatangan where Pang performed the first officially sanctioned removal of oil palms that had allegedly been illegally planted in violation of riparian reserve laws in a replanting process.
Pang forewarned that the action to remove about 20 acres of oil palms that had encroached riparian reserves should be seen as precursor to deal with "plenty more" similar situations, including a study to look into the possibility of punitive measures on those who have done harm to mother nature.
Tan said Matta brought up the issue in 2012 when it expressed concern about unresolved riparian issue in Kinabatangan and oil spills from palm oil mills.
"So we hope the Ministry will continue to work without fear or favour to once and for all ensure every stakeholder, tourism and plantations alike, will comply with all the legislations of the land to ensure every industry will continue to be successful.
"We had highlighted to the Government that tour operators in Kinabatangan had invested millions in lodges to attract special interest tourists from Japan, Europe, Australia to places like Sukau and so we support the Government for taking a strong stand to ensure riparian reserves are well protected and sustainable," he said.
The historic event brought ecstasy to the ranks of a well-known Batu Puteh Community Tourism Co-operative (Kopel), who had clamoured for action since 1990 against the loss of riparian forests for years with no success, until last Saturday.
"I think the message is very crucial to show to the Government that local village people can work together with the Government to enforce the law, especially regarding encroachment of riparian reserves," said Kopel Chairman Mohd Hasim Abd Hamid.
"As we know, most people got angry with the Government because they thought the Government didn't do anything but from the event last Saturday, we showed that if we can work together with the Government and NGOs, even a small event can have a very great impact," he said.
"For us, especially our village Batu Puteh, we like our riparian forests because our eco-tourism activities attract tourists who always question us why the Government didn't do anything about the oil palms planted to the river right in front of us, but we can't answer them. We always had to say we don't know," Mohd Hasim told Daily Express.
"But they have done something, especially with the Minister coming down, we are getting what we had wanted to see since 1990, that the encroached riparian be given back to the Government the rightful owner, so we are happy because we rely on the forests. Most tourists who come here want the opportunity to go into the forests to feel the forests and see the wildlife.
I think 80pc of our tourism programmes rely on the river to see the wildlife," he pointed out.
From the perspective of tourists, Canadian Danica Stark said: "I think this event is very important to tourism. The need to have reforestation in Sabah is very important because it attracts more tourism."
Michigan-hailed Megan Harris said: "It is wonderful to see a local community take the pride in the land and you could see everyone was very happy with the work that was being done."
"It is good to see some natural forests being restored and taken away from the plantation, good to see it being restored to what it should be," said Stephanie Ridge of the UK.
"It says that Malaysia really cares about their forests which is good because rainforest tourism is big part of Malaysian tourism," noted Noomi Prosser, also from the UK.
Penang-hailed Jocylyn Goon said:" Something like this is really good because you don't get people doing it.
So for someone to take that step, to make a stand and say, hey, this is ours, you back off, you are saying no to the bigger person, in terms of money."
Luke Evans from the UK predicts: "I guess it is likely to make more tourists want to come here especially in areas where they have the eco camp."
"I found it extremely touching, I think this is something we have been talking for many years, the riparian reserve issue.
Finally, something is really happening and I think it is the first step and I am really looking forward to do that with the local community in Batu Puteh and do it together," said Dr Benoit Goossens, Director of Danau Girang Field Centre.