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Malaysia, comprising the regions of Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak, supports some of the most extensive tropical peatlands in the world. Malaysia’s peatlands mainly consist of peat swamp forest, a critically endangered category of forested wetland characterised by deep layers of peat soil and waters so acidic that many of the plants and animals found in them do not occur in the other tropical forests of Asia. The peatlands of Malaysia play a critical role in preserving water supply, regulating and reducing flood damage, providing fish, timber, and other resources for local communities, and regulating the release of greenhouse gases by storing large amounts of carbon within peat. They also support a host of globally threatened and restricted-ranged plants and animals.
Despite these values, the peatlands of Malaysia are the most highly threatened of all its forests and wetlands. Vast areas of peat swamp forest have been cleared, burnt, and drained for economic development and few of Malaysia’s peatlands remain intact. Remaining peatlands continue to be cleared, particularly for oil palm plantations, to meet domestic and international demand for palm oil and other agricultural products. While this demand is increasing, international consumers are also implementing more stringent requirements for forest-certified and ‘green’ products. This is creating new demands on Malaysia to meet its national and international commitments toward climate change protocols and biodiversity conservation while still achieving its economic targets. Yet the development of management strategies is hindered because little data is available on the extent and status of Malaysia’s peatlands, and no national strategy for peatland management exists.
This report presents the first national assessment of peatlands in Malaysia. It identifies remaining peatlands of high conservation value, and presents preliminary recommendations toward the development of a national strategy for Malaysia’s peatlands. The report comes at a critical time for the management of Malaysia’s forests and wetlands, and is a first step toward developing a national strategy for Malaysia’s peatlands. The report’s findings were presented at the first international ‘Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil Conference’, held in Malaysia in November 2009. Importantly, the report is preliminary in nature: data is limited or unavailable for many areas, and available data ranges from two to nine years old. In this respect the report highlights the need for new data and provides a framework for more detailed studies in the future.