SANDAKAN: A world renowned environmental scientist who is now on the final leg of a 10-day study tour of Sabah has cautioned the state to protect its rich treasures of natural environment.
Professor Ross K Dowling, the foundation professor of tourism at the Edith Cowan University (ECU) of Western Australia, said that its parks and marine environment are among the richest treasures that he had seen anywhere in the world.
Acknowledging that Sabah “is really an ecotourism paradise”, he said there is an opportunity for this Malaysian state on Borneo to have a very strongly developed eco-tourism.
He said other opportunities in the state, based on the natural environment, include geo-tourism, wild-life tourism, as well as bird watching tourism.
“You would have to protect those areas. They go, the tourism will go,” the Australian professor of tourism cautioned.
“Sabah, as a state of Malaysia, is probably the prime example of a state that has focused its attention to conservation. It still has quite a bit of its natural assets and raw materials here,” he added in an interview.
He said to maintain that, the government of Sabah would have to recognize that it has to invest money in conservation to realize the rewards which would come from the baby boomers around the world.
These globetrotters of the future, he noted, would be searching for natural environments that are shrinking around the world.
Prof Ross is an environmental scientist who did a lot of work in his home country of New Zealand and did a lot of work to establish environmental education for the government there for about 20 years.
He has now moved to Australia, based in Perth where he undertook the first ecotourism PhD in the world and for the last 20 years, he has worked extensively in ecotourism development around the world, including Borneo.
“I get invited all over the world to speak about ecotourism. A lot of countries don’t really have the raw, natural assets to develop ecotourism.
“Ecotourism, by definition, has to be based on natural environment. And many countries in the world now have very little of the pristine natural environment left,” he observed.
“Sabah is very proud of the fact that it is attracting a large number of tourists, but these are of mass tourism.
“It has to recognize, does it want to be in the game of mass tourism or does it want to have a more balanced approach to tourism development?” he asked.
“Yes, you do have a large number of Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and other Asian visitors from Singapore, Australia and New Zealand coming here for mass beach tourism, golf tourism.
Prof Ross has made regular visits to Sabah at least once a year and has taken note of changes that have taken place.
“Definitely since the first time about a decade ago, I have seen a loss of natural assets. I have seen of course the extensive development of towns and cities like Kota Kinabalu.
“Look I am not against development; I think you have to have it. But, there is definitely this move towards clearing land for oil palm is extensive, and it is growing and so some decisions will have to be made there.”
He points out that if Sabah were to keep clearing land of natural vegetation for human-made oil palm plantation, then, there would be a loss of quality and integrity of natural environment.
“You are going to drive the orang utans into fewer areas. You can’t support the natural environment, the birds, the plants, the animals if you just shrink with an ever increasing palm oil and clearing.
“You just can’t do it. So there’s got to be some balance there. I have seen a loss of habitat in the
last decade,” Prof Ross added. He has been in Sabah for a week now, leading a group of 17 students from ECU to study ecotourism “as it occurs”.
They are due to attend the Anzac Day ceremony here today before returning to Perth on Tuesday.