How Sabah Is Using Smart Technology to Protect Nature

Date Published
July 25, 2022

Mount Kinabalu, one of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia, dominates Kinabalu Park, Malaysia's first World Heritage Site. Photo credit: ADB

Managing nine of Sabah’s protected parks is no easy feat as they sprawl over 1.21 million hectares in the northern part of Borneo. But with the help of technology, the statutory body created in 1964 to manage the Malaysian state’s parks now has enhanced capability to protect both terrestrial and marine reserves that are part of Sabah’s natural heritage.

Sabah Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment Permanent Secretary Datuk Sr Yusrie Abdullah said Sabah Parks uses drone and satellite technology as part of its arsenal to protect the parks. “Technology has taken the front line in connecting the global community, and it was key for the state to adopt and remain relevant in terms of environmental conservation and protection,” he said at the 2nd Asia Parks Congress held last May in Sabah.

Delegates at the congress called for greater inclusion and collaboration among park custodians and managers to preserve Asia’s rich biodiversity.

Yusrie noted that technological advances in Sabah have moved beyond individual use and basic infrastructure and toward preservation and conservation of natural resources. He said drone technology and satellite imaging enable Sabah Parks to respond rapidly to “undesirable events,” such as deforestation and illegal poaching.

Sabah Parks also leans on technology to monitor water quality, detect harmful algal blooms, or spot forest fires. Information sourced from environmental monitoring networks aid authorities and policy makers to take timely and appropriate action and craft effective conservation policies.

The nine protected parks in Sabah range from vast rainforests to marine areas. These are: Kinabalu Park, Tawau Hills Park, Crocker Range Park, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, Pulau Tiga Park, Turtle Islands Park, Tun Sakaran Marine Park, Sipadan Island Park, and Tun Mustapha Park.

“Technology advancement and modernization is not completely bad for conservation and protection of nature,” remarked Yusrie. He said urban development has affected the Sabah ecosystem tremendously with climate change not only affecting the habitat of flora and fauna but also the livelihood of the people living in the parks.

He said the unpredictable weather due to climate change is a concern as it has caused scarcity in crops and livestock. This has made it more urgent for Sabah Parks to prioritize environmental conservation and protection, he said.

Parks for nature and people

The Asia Parks Congress, which adopted the theme “Parks for Nature and People,” identified the priorities for the next decade to strengthen the systems of protected and conserved areas across the region and to contribute to the achievement of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework being negotiated under the Convention on Biological Diversity. A new framework is needed to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, halt biodiversity loss by 2030, and achieve recovery by 2050.

The delegates called for the conservation of at least 30% of lands and oceans across Asia to ensure the region’s most important biodiversity areas are protected and conserved and will continue to benefit people and planet. Recognizing that Asia has the world's richest marine biodiversity, the delegates also called for increased measures to conserve oceans.

They also see the need to ensure that traditional custodians of nature are respected, supported, and included in conservation efforts, building on their ancient wisdom, knowledge systems, and customs. At the working group on governance of protected and conserved areas, delegates stressed the importance of respecting the rights and identity, and traditional governance systems and customary laws of all stakeholders, including women, youth and vulnerable people, as well as transparency and accountability in decision-making, and the equitable sharing of costs and benefits of protected and conserved areas.

Delegates also urged countries to restore and secure the integrity of nature as the foundation for nature-based solutions to address climate challenges, and to secure the health and well-being of communities and their economic and social well-being. In particular, they called for strengthening the resilience of protected and conserved areas to help cope with the increasing frequency and intensity of climate-induced disasters, and to enhance the quality of life in Asia's burgeoning urban environments.

At the working group on leveraging on nature-based solutions, delegates noted such measures are key to efforts to protect and conserve the region’s natural areas. They called on authorities to develop clear guidance and tools for deploying nature-based solutions in and around protected and conserved areas, including good practices and case studies that build on traditional knowledge, and to apply the definitions and standards agreed at the global level to actions on the ground.

Noting the rapid fragmentation and disruption of ecosystems through land- and sea-use changes, the delegates called on transboundary cooperation among countries. Stronger cooperation is seen to help countries restore ecosystems through networks of protected and conserved areas and secure the habitat of endangered species across the region. Closer cooperation is also seen to support decision-making.

More than 1,250 delegates from 49 countries participated in the Second Asia Parks Congress. It was jointly convened by Sabah Parks, Malaysia, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.