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Malaysian campus ‘bringing back the rainforest’

News story

Curtin Sarawak is actively supporting the development of the Piasau Nature Reserve in Miri through a range of staff and student initiatives.

Students from Curtin Sarawak in the rainforest
Curtin staff and student volunteers with SFC staff at the project launch

Formerly known as Piasau Camp, a residential area for Shell staff since the 1950s, the land has been relinquished to the state government and made a nature reserve in 2013. Efforts are being made through the community-oriented ‘Bring Back the Rain Forest’ 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 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 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 in September marked a new phase in the rehabilitation of the site: 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.

“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,” says Curtin Sarawak Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Beena Giridharan.

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

Upon Shell’s decision to relinquish the camp to the state government, the local community campaigned for it to be declared a protected area. Their persistence paid off when it was gazetted as a nature reserve on 31 December 2013.

Meanwhile, Pro Vice-Chancellor and President of Curtin Sarawak, 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.”

The reserve's famed Oriental Pied Hornbills

Despite being located within the urbanised Miri City, a significant number of plant and animal species have been recorded at the site. The existence of protected wildlife species like the Oriental Pied Hornbill was one of the reasons for the establishment of the reserve.

“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.”

Piasau Nature Reserve is less than nine kilometres from the Curtin Sarawak campus. Just offshore is the Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park, with 187,000 hectares of pristine coral reef. Amateur divers from Curtin Sarawak help in an 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.

Various species of native plants, herbs and trees are being planted at the reserve. It will have five gardens: Piasau Garden, Mixed Species Garden, Fruit Tree Garden, Ficus Garden and Herbal Garden – the result will be 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 Piasau Nature Reserve, making it a major bird watching spot in Sarawak, increasing the number of visitors and providing opportunities to experience a unique rainforest landscape in an urban setting.

The reserve is known among locals as the breeding ground of an Oriental Pied Hornbill named Jimmy, and his soulmate Faridah. From 2005, this resident couple produced 56 offspring until Faridah was killed by a poacher in September 2013.

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.

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