KOTA KINABALU, April 21 ― Nature conservationists commended the Sabah government today for calling off a highly controversial bridge through its Kinabatangan rainforest area that would have affected the very ecosystem it has benefitted from in tourism dollars.
One of the bridge’s harshest critic, Danau Girang Field Centre director Benoit Goossens, said the decision was the right one with foresight considering Sabah’s ecotourism reputation.
“I congratulate the Right Honourable Chief Minister of Sabah for his decision to cancel the bridge in Sukau and consider the environmental impact of such an infrastructure on an ecosystem already extremely fragile such as the Kinabatangan.
“I believe that in the long-term this decision will benefit everybody including the local communities living in the Kinabatangan. It should be the start of a movement to enhance the fragile but rich ecosystem of the floodplain for the benefit of the next generation,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted.
Goossens said that local communities, NGOs, research organisations, government and tour operators should work together to save the Kinabatangan rainforest and make it a state-of-the-art protected area that will benefit everybody for many generations.
The Sabah government’s decision was announced by the chief conservator of forests Sam Mannan in his speech at the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership dinner at the Royal Society in London last night.
Mannan was reported saying the decision was made after due consideration to global concern over the impact of the bridge, notably an article in UK daily The Guardian citing renowned British conservationist Sir David Attenborough’s views.
The RM223 million bridge, under the 10th Malaysia Plan, was expected to connect several villagers in Sukau on the east to the western river bank and the road would connect Sukau to Litang and Tomanggong areas, in an effort to stimulate economic activities.
The project had drawn heavy criticism from non-governmental organisations and environmentalists, claiming it will interrupt the already sensitive ecology in the region and is in the middle of high elephant traffic.
It has also been argued that the road would provide convenient access and escape for poachers and spawn illegal hunting activities in the area.
A civil society group calling itself Save Kinabatangan and formed last year to campaign against the Sukau, also thanked the Sabah government for withdrawing from the project, reiterating that studies have shown the proposed bridge would have divided the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and its surrounding forests.
Save Kinabatangan consists of several other conservation advocacy groups, like the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Danau Girang Field Centre, Hutan, Kinabatangan – Corridor of Life Tourism Operators Association, Land Empowerment Animals People, Living Landscape Alliance, Sabah Environmental Protection Association, Sabah Environmental Trust and the Sabah office of WWF-Malaysia.
“We wish to wholeheartedly support the people of Sukau and the other Kinabatangan communities in working towards a regional vision. This way, people and wildlife, and the oil palm and tourism sectors, can come together to build a mutually beneficial future,” they said in a joint statement.