Curtin Sarawak supports nature conservation at Piasau Nature Reserve

Curtin volunteers and SFC staffer planting sapling.

Curtin volunteers and SFC staffer planting sapling.

As an advocate of nature conservation, Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia (Curtin Sarawak) is actively supporting the development of the Piasau Nature Reserve (PNR) in Miri through a range of staff and student initiatives.

The PNR was formerly called Piasau Camp, a residential area for Shell staff since the 1950s, but since Shell relinquished it to the state government and it was gazetted a nature reserve in 2013, efforts are being made through the community-oriented ‘Bring Back the Rain Forest’ (BBtRF) Project to turn it back into a rainforest for the variety of indigenous wildlife and plant life there.

According to the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC), the government agency managing the PNR, the aim of the Project is to rehabilitate degraded forest in the reserve by planting over 10,000 plants of various species and create nature trails and other amenities over the next three years. It is anticipated the 88.65 hectare area will revert completely to rainforest in 20 to 30 years’ time and become one of the premier nature reserves in the region.

Over 100 staff and students of Curtin Sarawak have so far volunteered for the BBtRF Project on two occasions, planting saplings and helping set up the reserve’s community trail.

The launch of the Project by Head of State Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud on 11 September 2016 marked a new phase in the rehabilitation of the PNR – landscape restoration and conservation. Taib was joined by over 800 volunteers from various bodies, including 57 from Curtin Sarawak, in planting over 1,000 saplings.

Curtin staff and student volunteers with SFC staff on 11 September 2016.

Curtin staff and student volunteers with SFC staff on 11 September 2016.

“Nature conservation is a global issue, and as part of a university that views itself as being increasingly international, as well as a campus with a close connection with the local community, we intend to be a long-term, active partner in the PNR,” said Curtin Sarawak deputy pro vice-chancellor Professor Beena Giridharan, who was present at the launching.

She added that the setting up of the PNR requires significant involvement of the community and Curtin Sarawak is pleased to work with the state government and SFC, as well as non-governmental organisations like the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), Miri Chapter and Piasau Camp Miri Nature Society (PCMNPS), both strong advocates of the PNR.

“It is a public driven project and a classic example of excellent cooperation between the community and relevant authorities,” Giridharan remarked.

Curtin volunteers helping set up nature trail.

Curtin volunteers helping set up nature trail.

In 2013, the local community upon hearing of Shell’s decision to relinquish the camp to the state government and fearing it would be given up for development and endangering the wildlife there, campaigned for it to be declared a protected area. Their persistent calls were answered when it was gazetted as a nature reserve on 31 December 2013.

Meanwhile, Pro Vice-Chancellor and President of Curtin Malaysia, Professor Jim Mienczakowski said, “Some people travel across the world to see the amazing natural history of Borneo but we’re fortunate enough to have it right here on our doorstep.”

Studies have shown that despite it being located within the urban area of Miri City, a notable number of plant and animal species have been recorded at the PNR. The existence of protected wildlife species like the Oriental Pied Hornbill is said to be one of the catalysts for the establishment of the PNR.

Second batch of Curtin volunteers on 26 September 2016.

Second batch of Curtin volunteers on 26 September 2016.

Mienczakowski pointed out that the PNR is less than nine kilometres from the Curtin Sarawak campus, and furthermore, just offshore of the reserve is the Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park with 187,000 hectares of pristine coral reef and where amateur divers from Curtin Sarawak help in the annual coral reef clean-up.

“The Piasau Nature Reserve is a unique environment, truly a good international news story. It’s very rare that any green area is reclaimed inside a city but it’s actually happening in Miri. The gazetting of the nature reserve is a role model for community-driven projects in urban areas across the world,” he said.

Under the BBtRF Project, various species of native plants, herbs and trees are being planted at the PNR. It will have five gardens – Piasau Garden, Mixed Species Garden, Fruit Tree Garden, Ficus Garden and Herbal Garden – much like a botanical garden in terms of plant conservation and education.

The ultimate goals of the Project are to ensure sufficient food supply and an environment conducive for wildlife species residing in the PNR, making it a major birding spot in Sarawak, increasing the number of visitors and offering them opportunities to experience a unique rainforest landscape in an urban setting.

The PNR's famed Oriental Pied Hornbills.

The PNR’s famed Oriental Pied Hornbills.

The PNR is famous as the breeding ground of Oriental Pied Hornbills Jimmy, the area’s dominant male, and his soulmate Faridah. From 2005, this resident couple produced 56 offspring until Faridah was killed by a poacher in September 2103.

Hornbills are known to pair for life and when Faridah died, there were concerns about Jimmy’s wellbeing. However, Jimmy soon partnered with Juliet, one of its offspring with Faridah, and in two nestling cycles they produced three offspring and the brood continues to grow. To date, 21 individual hornbills were recorded in the PNR.

Another interesting bird species found at the PNR is the Barred Eagle-owl with a resident nesting pair named Jenny and Klaas offering another heart-warming story. See Curtin Sarawak’s documentary on the PNR at http://bit.ly/2eHAJJA.

For more information on Curtin Sarawak, visit its website (www.curtin.edu.my), its Facebook page (Curtin University Sarawak Malaysia), Twitter profile (curtinsarawak), YouTube channel (CurtinUniSarawak) or Instagram (curtinsarawak).

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