Pushing for a valuable Kinabalu Global Geopark
Published on: Sunday, March 28, 2021
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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Aspiring Kinabalu Global Geopark.
- First of a series

SABAH’S geological masterpiece Mt Kinabalu has been one of the biggest “Pull Factors” in the history of tourism in the State!

But the drive is on in “pushing” for hugely bigger Unesco “Aspiring Kinabalu Global Geopark”.

This was the unfamiliar event I was trying to figure out what’s it all about at the international seminar last Thursday at the equally new Sabah Convention Centre. 

After all, the 754sq km Kinabalu Park was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in December 2000.

What extra honour and reputation does it need? 

It turns out it’s more about value that a Unesco Aspiring Kinabalu Global Geopark which is 16 times bigger than the centrepiece Kinabalu Park, can bring.

Imagine enlarging its pull value and benefits 16 times bigger through an integrated, holistic and synergistic approach!   

Professor Dr Felix Tongku, one of Sabah’s most well-known geologists, outlines its magnitude.

“The Aspiring Kinabalu Global Geopark covers 4,750sq km. It covers the entire district of Kota Marudu (1,775sq km), Kota Belud (1,386.52sq km) and part of Ranau District (1,588sq km),” which is 15.8 times bigger than the Unesco Kinabalu Park World Heritage Site, to be exact. 

As I sat looking at pictures and words from global geoparks expert speakers in China, such as Professor Zhang Jian Ping, Korea’s Dr Jeon Yongmun, Malaysia’s Emeritus Professor Dato Dr. Ibrahim Komoo and Prof Dr Jennifer Chan of UMS, I realised Unesco Global Geoparks is all about developing much neglected infinite diversity of high value opportunities linked intimately to our geological wonders such as geo-tourism, geo houses, geo food, geo agriculture, geo guides, geo local residents, geo trails, geo culture etc etc.

Concept of geopark

So enters the idea of geoparks – meaning geographical areas that include geoheritage sites as part of a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development with emphasis on non-destructive use and development of a broad sweep of geo, bio, cultural, social, natural, historical and archaeological values. 

The “must” in it is the “synergy between geodiversity, biodiversity and culture which must be highlighted as an integral part of each geopark”.

These include sites of ecological, archaeological, historical and cultural values within a geopark because it recognises that in many societies, the natural, cultural and social history are closely linked and cannot be separated.

So this integrated concept which emphasises on non-destructive use of a broad-sweep of values is very much missed planning and development opportunity for Sabah on how raise value. 

Professors lament missed value 

and opportunities

Professor Jennifer Chan lamented Sabah is very much sleeping on the huge potential of geotourism because of a gross lack of awareness.

Emeritus Professor Ibrahim Komoo, an international expert on Unesco Global Geoparks and Chairman of the National Geoparks Implementaion Committeee, takes a few points further in his concluding remarks on why it has been difficult to deal with geoparks, when peaking on ‘The Development of Global Geoparks in Malaysia.’

“First is about Research and Development on geoparks – development and conservation,” he noted.

“We have many geosites of international significance but not much research and publications to establish and international value,” he pointed out.

“So when we are not able to show our geosites are of international value, we are not able to propose a territory as a geopark. So research and publication on potential geosites is very much in need. So Kinabalu is lucky because a lot of research had been done as I have shown in my slide. 

“The second point is about some outstanding geosites that can be developed for research and ecotourism destinations but they are not integrated to their geological characteristics and heritage. 

“So they have been developed for education and ecotourism but almost no information or knowledge on the geological landscape. So to be a geopark, we need an integrated approach to look at geosites not just from geological elements but also their link to natural and cultural heritage but I am happy to see this is gaining momentum, Prof Komoo was instructive.

“Secondly, geotourism as a full-fledged special type of tourism is not in the national policy direction so much as that Motech (Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture) is not giving much attention to this and the movement is very much sectorial and not a national one,” Prof Komoo noted.

Problematic mindset 

“Third important point – Government constraints in developing geoparks. The mindset has always been a geopark is situated in conservation area and this is not a good way of looking at it because geoparks are not conservation areas, geoparks are development areas where we need balance between development and sustainable use.

“The fourth point is top down approach is still the preferred territory development so something comes from the top can easily be done but something comes from the bottom needs a lot of effort and time.     

“Finally, state and local agencies are not used to managing bottom-up approach or in other words, managing based on co-management. So looking for the best governance on geoparks is always difficult,” Prof Komoo lamented.

“If you look closely, we are lucky to have the Langkawi Development Authority in Langkawi to look into the Langkawi Unesco Global Geopark and we are also lucky to have Taman Taman Sabah (Sabah Parks) to look into the development of Aspiring Kinabalu Unesco Global Geopark,” Prof Komoo said. 

The journey towards a Unesco 

Kinabalu Global Geopark

On the overall view of planning and development of Unesco Geological Parks in Malaysia, Prof Komoo said the journey started way back in 2000 when the Gelogical Heritage Group pf Malaysia worked on the Langkawi geological aspects of the Langkawi Geological Park.

“In 2006, Langkawi was endorsed by the State Government of Kedah as a national geopark.

“Thin in 2010, we started to begin the scientific work on Delta Sarawak and Kinabalu as global geoparks,” he noted.

“So in actual fact that journey for Kinabalu started in 2010 but looks what’s happening. By 2013, geological scientists group of Malaysia created a national implementation committee. 

“So I would consider this is the beginning of the movement of national geoparks in Malaysia and two years later, the national government approved the project on national geoparks and created a national committee on national geoparks.”       

“This is the first time the federal government paid attention to endorse the work on national as well as global geoparks              

In 2017, Jerai of Kedah and Lembah Kinta were endorsed as national geoparks, followed by Kinabalu and Mersing in 2019. 

“So as of now we have five national geoparks – Langkawi, Jerai, Lembah Kinta, Kinabalu and Mersing,” Prof Komoo noted. 

The ‘Push’  for Global Geoparks and call for government support 

“Year 2020 we had all sorts of problems including Covid-19 and even though we had created a national geopark implementation committee but the movement towards a Unesco Geopark is very slow. 

“So the geologists group and department of Mineral and Geoscience Malaysia created a Task Force for the escalation of Unesco Global Geoparks. So I consider 2020 as our beginning of pushing the agenda of Unesco Global Geopark further. 

“We are happy to share that in 2021 we managed to send a dossier (case study) to the Unesco Global Geopark and now we have the international seminar and hopefully towards the end of this year we are going to evaluation of Unesco Council.

“Our aim in 2022, if everything goes well, we will push towards Mersing as an Aspiring Unesco Global Geopark and in 2023, Delta Sarawak and in 2024, Aspiring Kinabalu Global Geopark, that is, with the full support of the State and Federal governments.”  


Prof Dr. Felix Tongku 

Langkawi is Southeast Asia’s first Unesco Global Geopark. Inset: Prof Komoo. (Pic: Twitter) 


Prof Jennifer on the volcanic cone legacy in Tawau. Inset: Prof Jennifer 

Prof Jian Ping Zhang’s Great Wall of China Global Geopark slide.

China Geofruit Plantation. 

Dr Jeon

Jeju Volcanic Island Global Geopark, South Korea. 

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