Langkawi risks losing Geopark status after Unesco ‘Yellow Card’

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Malaysia's widely promoted tourist island, Langkawi, is in danger of losing its Unesco Geopark status following the world body’s move to issue a “Yellow Card” warning because of the local authorities’ failure to abide by conservation and sustainable practice requirements.

A civil society group, which calls itself FLAG for “Friends of Langkawi Geopark”, has now taken upon itself to undertake programmes to improve the situation before the Unesco inspection by the middle of next year.

If the Unesco panel is not convinced that there is any significant improvement, Langkawi will be slapped with a “Red Card” which would end its Geopark status completely.

FLAG coordinator Phisol Ishak said it would be very unfortunate if Putrajaya did not commit to fulfilling the stipulated conditions by 2015.

“If they don’t commit, then it’s too bad,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

“This is the first international recognition for Langkawi. We have to address it seriously.”

Formed earlier this year, FLAG, spearheaded mainly by residents and local travel trade operators, is conducting an awareness drive on the importance of the Geopark status.

Its latest activity – a “No Plastic Campaign” – was held at the Pasar Ramadan in Kuah town on Saturday.

Among its initiatives, the group wants to revitalise CHOGM Park where leaders from Commonwealth nations had planted trees during the historic Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October 1989, Phisol said.

He also described as a “plus point” former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent agreement in June to be FLAG’s patron to help develop the cause of the Geopark.

Langkawi was issued the “Yellow Card” during a review by a Unesco expert panel on October 9, 2011.

The Geopark status, which was originally accorded on June 1, 2007, was extended until 2015.

It is understood that the Unesco review panel had initially wanted to give Langkawi a “Red Card”.

But the Malaysian scientific adviser of Langkawi Global Geopark, Prof Ibrahim Komoo, appealed and convinced the panel that improvements could be made, and so a “Yellow Card” was given instead.

The panel’s decision was based largely on the inspection report by two officials who visited in July 2011.

According to their review, there were 27 areas not maintained in accordance with Unesco guidelines.

Generally, these included failure to implement conservation measures for local geology and the environment, to educate and preserve local communities and indigenous people, and to have proper tourism practices that promote nature and local culture.

There was also failure to have appropriate development and planning that do not damage the local nature and community.

It is understood that the main agency responsible for Langkawi is the Langkawi Development Authority (LADA) which comes under the Finance Ministry.

There are now 100 Global Geoparks in 30 countries.

The status is given to a place where there are special geological and environmental characteristics.

Each Geopark designation must be revalidated every four years.

Langkawi is the first Unesco Geopark in Southeast Asia.

Unlike other Unesco sites, which are only sections of a province, the whole Langkawi island and its surroundings, covering 478 sq km, are recognised as a single Geopark. – July 15, 2014.