The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has officially announced the listing of Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve (PHBR) as the nation’s latest biosphere reserve under the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme following the 33rd Session of the Man and the Biosphere Programme International Coordinating Council (MAB-ICC) which was held in Abuja, Nigeria from 13 September 2021 to 17 September 2021.
This prestigious accolade is the third UNESCO biosphere reserve to be declared in Malaysia; after Tasik Chini in Pahang and Crocker Range in Sabah.
The PHBR encompasses the three major ecosystems, namely the terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems; and spans over an area of 12,481 hectares covering Penang Hill, Penang National Park, Penang Botanic Gardens, Teluk Bahang Dam, Ayer Itam Dam, 6 permanent forest reserves which are Bukit Kerajaan Forest Reserve, Teluk Bahang Forest Reserve, Laksamana Forest Reserve, Penara Hill Forest Reserve, Highlands Forest Reserve and Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve as well as several water catchment areas on Penang island.
According to UNESCO, biosphere reserves are “learning places for sustainable development”. The MAB Programme which was launched by UNESCO in 1971 aims to promote environmentally sustainable approaches to economic development that are both socially and culturally relevant.
At present, there are 714 biosphere reserves in 129 countries, including 21 transboundary sites under the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
The core area of the PHBR with a total size of 5,757 hectares is a protected site to carry out biodiversity conservation works as well as research and educational activities.
Meanwhile, the transition area which is connected to the core area by the buffer zone encompasses human activities within the PHBR including human settlements, commerce and recreation.
Apart from being home to thousands of endemic biodiversity, the PHBR is extraordinary as it is located within minutes-drive from the heart of the city where the George Town UNESCO World Heritage site is located.
The initiative to nominate the Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve (PHBR) kickstarted in 2016 and was coordinated by Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) in collaboration with The Habitat Group, academics from Universiti Sains Malaysia and various state and federal government agencies together with the immense support from the Penang State Government and the national focal point, the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (KeTSA).
After years of intense research, the nomination dossier was finally submitted for evaluation in September 2020.
“I would like to congratulate the team and all the partners who have worked diligently in achieving this prestigious recognition by UNESCO. Apart from fostering the harmonious relationship between man and nature, the PHBR also paves the way for Penang Hill and its surrounding areas to become a world-class learning site to explore and illustrate methods of conservation and sustainable development. We hope to generate innovative and green approaches; thus, bringing us closer to achieving the Penang2030 vision and to make Penang a shining example in conservation works and sustainable economic development in Malaysia.” said Chief Minister of Penang Chow Kon Yeow who is also the Chairman of Penang Hill Corporation.