Deforestation affects Malaysian tourist resorts

Malaysia’s three main hill resorts, popular draws for tourists escaping the tropical heat, are warming up, mainly due to deforestation, environmentalists said this week.

Faizal Parish, director of the Malaysia-based Global Environment Centre, said some bird and plant species are disappearing as the mountainous areas became hotter, and called on the government to stop forest clearing.

Genting Highlands, with its casino and hotels, the Cameron Highlands, known for its tea plantations, and Fraser’s Hill are all located in central Malaysia and are favoured destinations for domestic and foreign tourists.

All three have average maximum temperatures in the low 20 degrees Celsius.

Parish said data from the meteorology department showed maximum temperatures in the three hill resort areas had risen between two and three degrees Celsius in the last 25 years.

“Obviously each year is slightly different, it goes up and down, but very clearly there is a trend upwards,” he said.

Parish said global warming is partly responsible for the rises, while climate patterns such as El Nino are leading to hotter and longer dry seasons.

But he said deforestation is the main local cause.

“Forests have been cleared over 25 years for agriculture and there’s been a change to the local micro-climate,” Parish said.

In the Cameron Highlands alone, he said, there was a 50% increase in the area cleared during that period and more is expected.

“There are proposals in the future to double or triple the areas of forest cleared ... which will lead to future significant changes to local climate.”

Parish said most of the land clearing was for agricultural purposes, but there are also growing numbers of hotels.

“If you have more buildings, then the buildings will absorb more heat in the day and radiate it at night, increasing the temperature,” he said.

Research by the Global Environment Centre, whose work includes programmes on climate change, has found that cold-climate vegetation is being pushed higher up hilltops, where temperatures are still low, he said.

Local environment groups are also reporting bird species previously only found in warmer climates, and the disappearance of other species.

“There are changes in some of the herbs and plants and some changes in the bird species,” Parish said.

“Those species that only occur at the top of the mountains in colder climates are disappearing.”—Sapa-AFP

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