Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site, has overshadowed many places in Sabah as a favourite destination, attracting thousands of visitors every year. The numbers continue to soar, and not just for the mountains but the islands and the wetlands as well. This is a worrying trend as far as carrying capacity and environmental impact are concerned. We have reached a crossroad and we must decide the direction to go forward and we must do so cleverly to manage the statistics and logistics.
Diverting the crowd is a challenge. For Mount Kinabalu, for so long, climbers prefer the western ridge to reach the summit. The alternate eastern ridge must be used to prevent further environmental damage on the more popular western route. Managing crowd capacity is crucial for the mountains as well as for the islands. So is protection and conservation. To limit the stress on Mount Kinabalu, we can also look towards little-known Mount Tambuyukon and Mount Nambuyukon which are good trekking, mountaineering and research options. At 2,580 metres and 2,100 metres, Mount Tambuyukon and Mount Nambuyukon are Sabah’s 3rd and 4th highest mountains respectively, after Mount Kinabalu (4,095 metres) and Mount Trusmadi (2,642 metres, also Malaysia 2nd highest). Mount Tambuyukon and Mount Nambuyukon are situated at the centre of Kinabalu Park.
Efforts to develop tourism must be balanced with environmental and conservation elements. The priority must be to preserve, care and protect the natural environment. While eco- tourism can be an enriching experience, we must always remember that for communities living there, the mountains and rivers are the sources of life. If human traffic and activities remain unchecked, the ecosystem and biodiversity in our nature parks will be negatively altered.
Climbing Mount Kinabalu is not the same as an ordinary trekking of a hill. We should never deliberately create or build every trail for the benefit of everyone to climb with ease. The mountain trails have perils but they should never be attempts to domesticate them. In the wild, we are bound by nature’s rules and we must respect the hazards and dangers. Climbers and trekkers must know their capabilities and limitations. Our duty is to preserve our natural assets, not to conquer them. The uniqueness of the forest, mountains, islands, rivers, and wetlands must be in consonance with sustainable reasons to interact with them: life, water catchment; research, education; observation; protection; and conservation. Only then can we let tourism tag along in a manageable and caring way.
Much of Sabah’s marine life and beauty has been forever destroyed by fish bombing and other human activities. Our waterways, rivers, and beaches are choked with trash. Our forests are being cleared by logging activities. Yes, Sabah made RM6.35 billion in tourism receipts in 2013 and, yes, we still have 6 million hectares of forests which are undeveloped. Where do we want to go from here? We move on but we must do so with loving care of the mountains, rivers, and islands.
We are responsible for our natural treasures. Our priority must never change. — Jason W. Yong