Safeguarding the Corridor of Life

GREETED by the sweet sound of nature, Imbak Canyon Conservation Area (ICCA) transports you to a different world. Surrounded with lush greenery, you might wonder how this virgin rainforest remained unscathed throughout the years.With every step you take into this tropical treasure, it unveils secrets that will lure you deeper into its grounds.

Dubbed as the ‘Living Pharmacy’ in the heart of Sabah, ICCA is located in the central interior of Sabah just immediately to the north of Maliau Basin Conservation Area. The canyon is a 27,599 ha complex of rainforest habitats within a 25 km long valley, hemmed in on three sides by sandstone ridges.

At their highest point, the ridges exceed 1,000m with the highest reaching 1,128m.

ICCA is one of the largest contiguous pristine lowland dipterocarp forest left in Sabah.

According to Yayasan Sabah Director Datuk Sapawi bin Haji Ahmad, ICCA is named a botanical gene bank.

“ICCA has rich plant biodiversity with over 600 species recorded to date. ICCA is also home to mammal species with both lowland and montane species present in a limited geographic area.

“Among them, Orang utan, Proboscis monkey, Banteng and Borneo Pygmy elephant,” said Sapawi.

He also said Imbak Canyon was formerly part of the forest concession assigned to Yayasan Sabah Group.

“In 2003, Yayasan Sabah Group voluntarily designated ICCA as a conservation area for purposes of research, education, training and nature recreation.

“Six years later, in 2009, ICCA was upgraded to Class 1 (Protection) Forest Reserve by the Sabah State Legislative Assembly,” Sapawi said.

“The day-to-day management of ICCA is carried out by Yayasan Sabah Group on behalf of an inter-agency Imbak Canyon Management Committee which also includes Sabah Forestry Department, Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment and several other agencies.

“ICCA is conserved both for its function as a gene – bank as well as in helping to protect the quality of our river system.”

The grounds for the protection of this unique area include biodiversity, particularly botanical diversity; geological including the scenic amenity associated with the site; and the neighbouring indigenous communities and the unique range of forest knowledge they possess – which as yet remains to be fully documented.

“The key conservation values for ICCA among others are its high biodiversity and endemism; in situ conservation of threatened species; undiscovered species; undisturbed functioning ecosystems; corridor of life and climate change refuge; monitoring climate change; natural monument and scenic amenity; basic resource needs for neighbouring indigenous communities; cultural and heritage values; and bio-prospecting reserve,” he said.

ICCA provides protection for a series of ecosystems ranging from lowland rainforest to lower montane forest – all are found within a relatively small geographical range – and provide a home to high biodiversity with early evidence of high endemism.

Many species found within the ecosystems afforded protection by ICCA are endangered and vulnerable.

Many species have also yet to be discovered and described as less than 50pc of ICCA’s 27,599ha has been explored to date.

“In addressing the ecosystems in ICCA, they are undisturbed and important in terms of maintaining and securing evolutionary processes – this has particular relevance given the ongoing climate change.”

ICCA is also a corridor of life and climate change refuge where it provides functional protection for part of the upper Kinabatangan catchment and compliments the conservation initiatives in the lower Kinabatangan i.e. to maintain a “corridor of life” along the river length through to the Sulu Sea. As such, protection is provided from coastal and lowland rainforests through to the montane forests in ICCA – and indeed MBCA,” said Sapawi.

During the most recent glacial episodes, central Borneo, including Sabah, provided sanctuary (refuge) for many species of flora and fauna. ICCA maintains the potential to provide a key site for refuge from impacts during contemporary and future climate change.

Species may move inland and upwards along an altitudinal gradient. ICCA also provides an important ‘stepping stone’ between lowland and montane forests, when viewed in terms of the larger conservation landscape.

The isolated and pristine nature of the site also makes it ideal for monitoring climate along a gradient of altitudes.

“As part of a landscape – combined with the ecosystems provided protection – ICCA is a feature of national and international importance and outstanding conservation value and on its own, qualifies to be considered a natural monument,” Sapawi added.

ICCA also provides scenic amenity within the broader conservation and national landscape.

Waterfalls within ICCA also provide local scenic amenity.

In addition, the protected area maintains the potential to satisfy the basic natural resource needs of the neighbouring communities – if the connection and intervening forest cover is maintained.

Similarly, ICCA provides protection for a range of cultural and heritage values, including ethno-botanical, for the neighbouring communities. Besides this, the protection provided by ICCA and its management areas secures the forest for bio-prospecting now and in the future – thus setting the scene for biodiversity conservation through bio-prospecting potentially with local community partners.


Source: Daily Express