KENYIR Lake may be man-made – it took shape when a river was dammed for the construction of a hydroelectric power station in the early 1980s, submerging 38,000ha of forest – but scientists believe it has what it takes to warrant consideration as a geological site of global importance.
Aside from its ancient geological make-up, it has a unique watery landscape as the flooding had created 340 small islands from what were once hills and highlands. Also, the forest that envelops the lake is rich in flora and fauna. Now the largest inland freshwater ecosystem in South-East Asia, Kenyir Lake draws huge numbers of nature lovers, anglers and researchers.
The idea of making it a geopark was announced by the state government three years ago and a proposal document is currently being prepared by the Kenyir Research Institute, a centre under Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT).
“It will make it possible to integrate nature and cultural heritage conservation in the future development of Kenyir. The geopark can be used as a developmental tool for regional sustainable development and ecosystem improvement, as well as promote participation of local communities in eco-tourism and conservation.”
Its geological, archaeological and cultural heritage, as well as biological diversity, are what makes the Kenyir Lake area a suitable site for a geopark. The area consists of various types of rocks with prehistoric plant and animal fossils, ranging in age from 60 million to 350 million years old.
Archaeological digs of Gunung Bewah date back to the 1950s. Among the finds were a Neolithic burial ground and artefacts such as kitchen utensils, stone axes and pottery shards. Today, the lower cave is submerged but the upper cave still yields lots of archaeological treasures. In 2010, a human skeleton was unearthed. The “Bewah Man” is said to be between 13,000 and 16,000 years old, making it the oldest ever found in the country. Two years later, it was reported that another skeleton was found, but there has been little information on this.
Minerals and Geoscience Department geologist Razaidi Shah A. Kadir says the Bewah and Taat caves, which are estimated to be 270 million years old, are unique as both are among the few limestone hills found in Terengganu. Fossilised remains of marine animals such as corals, bivalves and crinoids reveal the caves as once being part of the ocean floor.
Razaidi says an important fossil find is that of Alatoconchidae – a giant bivalve that can grow to a metre long. So far, it is found only in eight other sites worldwide – in Tunisia, Iran, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Croatia, Japan, Thailand and the Philippines. He says a geopark is not just a place with unique geological features; it should also include sites of ecological, archaeological, historical and cultural values.
Apart from unique geological features, the rainforests there are rich in biodiversity. The area is known to have 233 species of flowering plants, including two species of the world’s largest flower, the rafflesia. There are 13 fish species in the lake and 62 in the river systems, 208 herpetofauna species, 285 bird species and over 110 mammal species, including the elephant, seladang, tapir, serow, deer, panther and tiger.
To support the geopark proposal, UMT scientists have been doing surveys to document the area’s outstanding features. So far, 14 geo-sites – areas with interesting, important and valuable geological heritage – have been identified and these could be turned into tourist attractions. They include the Bewah and Taat caves, the Lasir, Saok, Lata Buweh and Sekayu waterfalls, the Cacing and Petang rivers, the Gagau and Chetai mounts, the island landscape and Chamal Island (which has mining heritage).
Dr Mohd Tajuddin Abdullah, director of the Centre for Kenyir Ecosystems Research, says there have been meetings and workshops with relevant parties so that the concept of a geopark will be well understood and accepted.
“The geopark proposal will be submitted to the Terengganu State Government for endorsement perhaps in 2015 and by 2017, to Unesco for recognition.”
However, illegal hunting as well as habitat loss and degradation are major threats to the proposed geopark. Dr Mohd Tajuddin says partnership between the Development Authority of Terengganu Tengah, Wildlife and National Parks Department, Forestry Department, police and army can deter poaching activities. He also believes that the duty-free status for Kenyir will enhance the socio-economic status of the local community.