Preserving parks and open spaces is a winner because it doesn’t need to be explained to everyday Americans.

– FRANK LUNTZ, AMERICAN POLITICAL AND COMMUNICATIONS CONSULTANT

An area of 93.65 hectares of lush greenery in the heart of a city. A place that is also by the sea with a sandy beach together with community and jogging tracks. There are upcoming bicycle tracks.

On location, there is a visitor’s centre with a wonderful interpretation centre. There are 17 flora and 75 fauna species here. It was also home to a loving pair of hornbills known as Jimmy and Faridah. 

To achieve this about 140 houses were demolished. This is an unprecedented action anywhere in the world, demolishing so many houses to make way for nature.

The best part is that the developers cannot lay their hands on it (so far). This is because the Sarawak government has gazetted this area as a nature reserve and hopefully more in the future.

This place is the Piasau Nature Reserve (PNR) in Miri City. Driven by strong public support, PNR was gazetted as a totally protected area by the Sarawak government on December 31, 2013.

How did it become the Piasau Nature Reserve? Well, it was once called Piasau Camp, a residential housing area owned by Sarawak Shell Berhad (SSB) for its employees. A place I use to go to every year during the ‘job week’ of my boy scouting days as the ‘Mat Sallehs’ made more generous payment for work done around their homes.

Originally, Piasau School was built here in 1950 for the children of expatriate SSB staff. From 1951 onwards wooden bungalows were built for the SSB employees. The employees from various parts of the world stayed there until shortly before SSB surrender the leased land back to the Sarawak government.

It was at this point that there was much speculation the land was in the process of being procured by developers. However, for some time before this, Oriental-pied hornbills had been sighted at Piasau Camp.

The constant sightings of Oriental-pied hornbills at the camp led to quite a lot of interest in the public. More importantly, some environmentalist, such as those from the Malaysian Nature Society, Miri Branch (MNS) started systematically monitoring them.

Some biodiversity studies had also been done at Piasau Camp by Sarawak Forestry Commission (SFC) and University Malaysia Sarawak.

Environmentalists such as Musa Musbah were concerned about what would happen to the hornbills if Piasau Camp became a commercially developed area upon the land being handed back by SSB to Sarawak government.

Sometime after that, a series of discussions between some committed environmentalists and the then Political Secretary to the Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water, Datuk Sebastian Ting took place. Ting then mobilised some people, myself being one of them, to organise a ‘Walk in the Park’ at Piasau Camp to bring the matter to the attention of the public and the Sarawak government.

The first ‘Walk in the Park’ took place on the April 6, 2013 with Jimmy and Faridah the resident Oriental-pied hornbills as the star attraction. This walk attracted a crowd of about 700 people to the surprise of some people.

This tremendous support gave the group of organisers the motivation to proceed to form a society which would initially focus on the creation of a nature reserve at Piasau Camp. The Piasau Camp Miri Nature Park Society (PCMNPS) was registered on October 23, 2013.

Four walks had been organised to aggressively pursue the request from the Sarawak government to gazette Piasau Camp as a nature reserve, when we got the news that one of the hornbills, Faridah was caught by poachers on September 23, 2013 at Piasau Garden. Subsequently, Faridah was found dead in a bin on September 26.

The outpouring of grief led to much publicity about the requests for the gazetting of the nature reserve and a gathering in memory of Faridah’s death was held on September 29.

Matters seem to have been fast tracked after this unfortunate incident. On May 10, 2014, Head of State Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud officiated at the earth breaking at the Piasau Nature Reserve witnessed by the late Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Adenan Satem.

An endowment fund was also be established for the purpose of operations and maintenance of Piasau Nature Reserve with a contribution of RM5 million each by SSB and Petronas.

Shell also undertook to demolish the houses at Piasau Camp at their own cost. PNR was formally handed over to SFC on May 17, 2016 after the house demolition works had been completed. After having a presence in Miri for more than 100 years SSB has indeed left a wonderful legacy for Miri City.

Many people would agree that the intervention by Ting and the people of Miri via the PCMNPS at a crucial time made the vision of PNR a reality. It certainly would not have been gazetted, had matters been left to the usual course and nature of business in the relentless drive for profits.

Fast forward, SFC has been acting as a responsible custodian with conservation in PNR as its priority. The ‘Bring Back the Rainforest’ Project is one such initiative.

It was a very happy occasion three days ago on February 15, when in the presence of 1,000 people our Chief Minister Abang Johari announced a RM30 million allocation to develop the Nature Discovery Centre at PNR for which he also did the earth breaking ceremony. He announced that the centre will be equipped with advanced and sophisticated facilities, to attract more visitors and scientists from around the world.

The commitment of the Chief Minister and SFC to our environment is very commendable and must be acknowledged.

I hope the presence of PNR also acts as a catalyst towards environmental awareness by the people of Miri City. Caring for our environment is also part of ‘jaga Sarawak tok bait bait’ and should be treasured.

In the meantime, Jimmy found a new soul mate, Juliet and the love story at PNR continues.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.