Explore secrets of the mangrove in heart of KK
Published on: Sunday, January 16, 2022
By: Mohd Izham Hashim
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The graceful flight of the white egret (Ardea Alba) at the centre, this species is a routine visitor, feeding on fish, insects, crustacea, snails, as well as amphibians. Inset: Mudskippers burrow in the mud to avoid predators and raise their young.
A LUSH mangrove forest digs its heels literally in the backyard of Kota Kinabalu city, thanks to the city folk’s commitment to conservation and the wetland birds that inspired it. 

According to a KK Wetland representative, it is the second urban Ramsar site in the world after Yatsu Higata in Tokyo, Japan. 

Urban Ramsar site, by definition, is a site that is within 7km-10km radius of the city centre. 

Sheltered well away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the sanctuary is all that remains of Kota Kinabalu’s once extensive mangrove forests that fringed the intertidal mudflats and coastlines.

A mere 10 minutes’ drive from downtown Kota Kinabalu, the reserve offers visitors a window into the mangrove ecosystem, home to a wide variety of birds, insects and fish species unique to the mangrove habitat. 

Formerly known as the Kota Kinabalu City Bird Park, the wetland reserve covers more than 24 hectares (60 acres) of mangrove forest which was gazetted as a protected reserve by the State government in 1996. 


Collared kingfisher (Todirhamphus chloris) waits patiently on a tree, identified by its distinctive and brilliant blue tones. (Photographs by Eugene Cheah)

Swift, elegant and a master of stealth, a purple heron (Ardea purpurea) swoops down to join the morning patrol for a tasty meal which includes crustacea, fish, amphibians, water snails, lizards and spiders. 

Mangroves are a haven for both resident and migratory birds, seen here is a vibrantly coloured Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum cruentatum).

A brilliantly-coloured stork-billed kingfisher, with its dagger-like scarlet beak, is eyeing its prey at the KKWC, this species is large-sized, territorial and will chase away eagles and other large predators.


Walking around the park is a breeze for visitors who can while their time along the network of boardwalks (1.5km) traversing the mangrove forest, keeping an eye for brilliant collared kingfishers, white egrets combing the lagoon for an easy meal. 

Overhead, eagles are on patrol for prey or find the elusive night heron on the treetops, one can see shy iguanas scampering away for cover, mud crabs or maybe even a mangrove snake under the stilt roots of mangrove trees. 

Mangrove forests resembling the one in the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre once flourished in the coastal areas, due to their ability to survive saline and brackish water environments, particularly in intertidal mudflats and sandbars. 

The ebb and flow of the tide replenishes the tidal woodland with oxygenated saltwater, and a fresh supply of nutrients. 

The unique wetland habitat attracts not just birds but bird watchers or the occasional visitor who happen to stumble upon this quiet refuge, away from the dizzying pace of the city.  

Day-to-day operations are handled by six staff who oversee the upkeep of the park, and take up roles as educators to spread the word for environmental conservation, as well as inspire action for volunteers to protect mangrove ecosystems. 

While there are nine major mangrove species that can be found in the reserve, the most commonly found include the Api-Api Putih, Bakau Minyak and Pedada, to name three. 

Api-api putih (Avicenna Alba) can be readily recognised by its glossy leaves and its greener top and paler underside, as well from its distinctive pencil-shaped roots protruding above the ground or water which enables the plant to breathe. 

Bakau Minyak (Rhizophorbia apiculata) has an arching, stilt root system, and spear-shaped fruits, while the Pedada (Sonneratia alba) has typically broad, oval shaped leaves as well as cone shaped roots that stick out straight out of the water. 

The mangrove forest dominates the wetland ecosystem, owing to its unique ability to withstand the rigours of highly saline and brackish water, along estuaries, coastlines including saltwater and freshwater marshes. 

The trees provide the building blocks of a complex interwoven food chain by producing large amounts of leaf litter, fruits, and other organic materials.  

They provide a supply of nutrients for creatures at the lower end of the food chain such as worms, snails, mussels, prawns, oysters and mollusks. In turn, these detritus eaters become a source of protein for larger predators including barramundi, mangrove jacks, herons and mud crabs, and higher up on the food chain, other animals, as well as humans. 

“The best time to visit the mangrove is early morning when the resident birds and other wildlife in the park are out looking for food,” said KKWC Conservation and Education Assistant officer, Nazri bin Ali.  

Apart from being a source for food, he said the mangrove forest is home to a variety of bird life (with over 90 species recorded) this includes resident birds and migratory species from far and wide.  

In the mangrove, the rise and fall of the tide decides between life and death, such is the fate of fish and crustacea that found themselves caught in the falling tide – easy prey to white egrets(Ardea alba), the resident purple heron ( Ardea purpurea) or the blue-collared kingfisher(Thodiramphus chloris).  

From the mudflats, mudskipper emerge from their burrows, crawling and dragging themselves through puddles in search for an easy meal, while colourful male fiddler crabs, waving their oversized claws, taunting each other for a duel to the death over territory and breeding rights. 

The lush mangrove of the KKWC play an important role in minimising pollution by absorbing nutrients. 

They also offer protection against storms, including tsunami, as well as common wave actions that cause coastal erosion. 

Its tangled labyrinth of roots forms an ideal refuge and nursery ground that harbours many species of juvenile fish before they journey to adulthood at sea, as well as lobsters, crabs and prawns. 

For avid nature lover, Fung Sai Hou, the mangrove park provides a rare attraction in the heart of urban Kota Kinabalu.  

“The mangrove centre is an idyllic retreat not far from the city centre, is a wonderful place for bird watchers and anyone who enjoys connecting with nature. 

In perhaps one of the city’s last bastions of mangrove forest, the KK Wetland Centre may well be the hope to help mangrove forests reclaim its glory. 

Hundreds of lush mangrove saplings are produced by volunteers and stored in KKWC’s Wetland Centre until they are ready to be replanted in mangrove restoration and rehabilitation activities at selected areas in Tuaran and other areas.


Winding pathways into the mangrove forest takes visitors on a journey to explore its unique biodiversity and understand the intricate web of life found in a mangrove ecosystem.  

The 24-hectare mangrove forest situated in the urban heart of Kota Kinabalu city is Malaysia’s seventh Ramsar site, managed by the Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society.

The KKCW is a haven for birdwatchers, an education centre for visitors and the younger generation, as well as a training ground for volunteers and conservators.


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December 20, 2014