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Rainforest to Reef: A Landscape-scale Approach to Coastal
Ecotourism in Malaysia
Lincoln Garland, Mike Wells, Keith French, John Dawkins
Version 1 : Received: 22 August 2017 / Approved: 23 August 2017 / Online: 23 August 2017 (09:14:40 CEST)
In 1990 the Malaysian Government launched Vision 2020 with the goal of Malaysia becoming a ‘fully developed
country’ by the year 2020. In this drive for development the country has been examining many of its key natural
assets, exploring how to both preserve them whilst ensuring that they make the maximum possible contribution to
national development goals. Endau Rompin is one of these assets, being the second largest National Park in
Peninsula Malaysia. The rich tropical rainforest flora and fauna of the Park and its hinterland, however, are threatened
by various anthropogenic forces, most notably deforestation and poaching; both of which have taken the Park’s
flagship species - the Tiger Panthera tigris jacksoni – towards the brink of local extinction. Malaysia’s statutory East
Coast Economic Region Development Council commissioned a study to consider ways of increasing tourism revenues
from the Park while at the same time reversing these threats. The key conclusion drawn is that a more holistic,
landscape-scale approach should be adopted, with Endau Rompin forming part of a wider strategic economic zone
based around sustainable tourism and land management. The proposed expanded zone extends eastwards beyond
the confines of the Park, across the coastal plain to the South China Sea, and onwards to the neighbouring Mersing
Islands. This expanded zone is referred to as Malaysia’s new ‘Rainforest to Reef Region’.
Malaysia; Endau Rompin; landscape-scale management; ecotourism; rainforest to reef; Tiger
Copyright: This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits
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How to cite: Garland, L.; Wells, M..; French, K..; Dawkins, J.. Rainforest to Reef: A Landscape-scale Approach
to Coastal Ecotourism in Malaysia. Preprints 2017, 2017080078 (doi: 10.20944/preprints201708.0078.v1).
Preprints (www.preprints.org) | NOT PEER-REVIEWED | Posted: 23 August 2017 doi:10.20944/preprints201708.0078.v1
Rainforest to Reef: A Landscape-scale Approach to Coastal
Ecotourism in Malaysia
, Mike Wells
, Keith French
& John Dawkins
Biodiversity by Design Ltd, Monkton Combe, Bath, United Kingdom
Grant Associates, Bath, United Kingdom
Corresponding Author: Lincoln Garland; E: email@example.com
In 1990 the Malaysian Government launched Vision 2020 with the goal of Malaysia becoming a ‘fully
developed country’ by the year 2020. In this drive for development the country has been examining
many of its key natural assets, exploring how to both preserve them whilst ensuring that they make the
maximum possible contribution to national development goals. Endau Rompin is one of these assets,
being the second largest National Park in Peninsula Malaysia. The rich tropical rainforest flora and
fauna of the Park and its hinterland, however, are threatened by various anthropogenic forces, most
notably deforestation and poaching; both of which have taken the Park’s flagship species - the Tiger
Panthera tigris jacksoni – towards the brink of local extinction. Malaysia’s statutory East Coast
Economic Region Development Council commissioned a study to consider ways of increasing tourism
revenues from the Park while at the same time reversing these threats. The key conclusion drawn is
that a more holistic, landscape-scale approach should be adopted, with Endau Rompin forming part of
a wider strategic economic zone based around sustainable tourism and land management. The
proposed expanded zone extends eastwards beyond the confines of the Park, across the coastal plain
to the South China Sea, and onwards to the neighbouring Mersing Islands. This expanded zone is
referred to as Malaysia’s new ‘Rainforest to Reef Region’.
Keywords: Malaysia; Endau Rompin; landscape-scale management; ecotourism; rainforest to reef; Tiger
According to the Commission on Growth & Development (2008) Malaysia is one of the world’s ‘13
Success Stories’, being one of only thirteen developing nations to have achieved sustained and
substantial economic growth since 1945. This rapid progress gave the nation confidence in 1990 to
launch its ambitious ‘Vision 2020’ programme, with the goal of Malaysia becoming a ‘fully developed
country’ by the year 2020. Malaysia is also ranked, by certain measures at least, among the world’s
top ten tourist destinations, benefitting from its tropical climate, beaches, islands, cultural diversity,
and natural environment (Mosbah & Khuja, 2014; Maps of the World, 2016). Given these attributes
the Government has positioned tourism at the economic forefront of Vision 2020 and in particular
believes that ecotourism has ‘tremendous potential’ for expansion.
In support of its ecotourism goal the Malaysian Government has been examining many of its
key natural assets, exploring how to both preserve them whilst ensuring that they make the maximum
possible contribution to national development objectives. Endau Rompin National Park (hereafter also
referred to as ‘the Park’) is one of these assets, being the second largest National Park in Peninsula
Malaysia. The Park, which spans the state border between Johor and Pahang, is c. 175km south-east
Preprints (www.preprints.org) | NOT PEER-REVIEWED | Posted: 23 August 2017 doi:10.20944/preprints201708.0078.v1
of Kuala Lumpur and c. 125km north of Singapore (Figure 1). Endau Rompin has numerous natural
assets, including virgin tropical rainforest, spectacular landforms, and variety of rare and in many cases
‘charismatic’ fauna, principal amongst which is the Malaysian Tiger Panthera tigris jacksoni (Figure
2). The Government’s East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC) commissioned
a Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) for the Park to determine how it might become an internationally
recognised ecotourism destination, thereby accelerating the economic growth of the East Coast
Economic Region in a ‘viable, equitable and sustainable manner’.
The Malaysian Government recognises that many of the nation’s nature-based resources are
not reaching their full tourism potential due to negative international perceptions related to
deforestation, the growth of oil palm plantations, and often significant limitations of infrastructure
(PEMANDU, 2010). Endau Rompin is no exception in these regards and has a record of low visitor
numbers and some concerns about visitor satisfaction. In spite of Endau Rompin’s impressive natural
qualities the Park has only been attracting c. 10,000 visitors per annum, which generates negligible
revenue. By comparison similar-sized Daintree National Park in Australia attracts approximately
400,000 visitors per annum and makes a significant contribution to the Queensland economy (Daintree
Discovery Centre, 2015; Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service, 2016).
Previous approaches to improving the Park’s ecotourism offer have focussed on new or
improved tourist facilities such as eco-lodges, visitor centres, hiking trails and roads. In the course of
the SIP study, however, it became apparent that such a narrow focus for improvement would fail to
protect the key biodiversity of the park, and equally fail to deliver significant socio-economic gains
locally and at a wider scale. Without adopting a truly sustainable and holistic approach to tourism and
development, the integrity of the Park’s ecosystems is likely to become progressively impoverished in
the face of various anthropogenic pressures, key amongst which are deforestation and poaching;
pressures that have, inter alia, taken the Park’s flagship species and national emblem – the Tiger –
towards the brink of local extinction. In response to these negative trends tourists are likely to
increasingly seek out alternative and more environmentally pristine destinations.
The present paper describes the research and analyses undertaken towards the production of a
new holistic SIP for the Park. It explains how the SIP aims both to preserve critical biodiversity and
create significant positive economic and social impacts through sustainable tourism, and restorative
land management and development, both within the Park and within its much wider zone of influence.
The present project was undertaken between 2012 and 2016 inclusive. The authors of this paper are
specialist eco-masterplanners, landscape architects and ecologists. Note that while the authors are UK-
based, each had worked on various other projects in Malaysia and south-east Asia prior to the present
project and so were already broadly familiar with the environmental and socio-economic issues
prevailing at the study Site. Supporting Project Team members were all Malaysia-based and included
consultants with specialisms in architecture, planning, transport, economics, tourism and
The assessment of baseline environmental conditions within the Park and its hinterland was
undertaken on the basis of:
• Field visits; four separate visits by the authors and many additional visits undertaken by other
Project Team members during 2013 and 2014, from which information was collated on -
o The type and distribution of habitats / species and associated ecosystem services.
o Management practices.
o Anthropogenic threats.
o Visitor facilities and potential future requirements.
Preprints (www.preprints.org) | NOT PEER-REVIEWED | Posted: 23 August 2017 doi:10.20944/preprints201708.0078.v1
Figure 1. Endau Rompin National Park context, Peninsula Malaysia’s second largest national park; the largest National Park - Taman
Negara – is also shown
Figure 2. Malaysian Tiger; Endau Rompin’s flagship species and Malaysia’s national emblem
o Socio-economic and cultural status of indigenous and other local communities.
• Meetings and workshops; these were held with Governing officials from both states, Johor
National Park Corporation, Pahang State Forestry Department, NGOs (including local Wildlife
Conservation Society [WCS]), Jakun Orang Asli villagers and tour guide representatives.
• Desk-based records and publications.
Being located near the equator Endau Rompin has an equatorial climate characterized by high
temperatures (annual mean 27 °C), rainfall (c. 3,400mm) and humidity (85%) throughout most of the
year. The Park covers 807km
, which is approximately the size of Singapore (719km²); 489 km
on the Johor side and 318 km
on the Pahang side.
The Park’s topography is relatively hilly and locally quite precipitous, including steep-sided
cliffs and deep gorges. The low ground and hills in the east rise to a more mountainous west, which
includes Endau Rompin’s highest peak, Gunung Besar (1,036m). The Park’s name is derived from its
two key rivers Sungai Endau (Figure 3) and Sungai Rompin, which tumble over many spectacular
waterfalls and rapids on the western side (Figure 4).
The Park is at its nearest point c. 27km from Peninsula Malaysia’ east coast and the South
China Sea, the two being separated by a low coastal plain with extensive oil palm and latex timber
clone plantations. Offshore are the Mersing Islands, otherwise known as the Seribuat Archipelago,
which comprise 62 islands and Marine Park protected coral reefs and other notable marine habitats.
Flora and fauna
The climax vegetation of the Park, as well as lowland Peninsula Malaysia more generally, is tropical
evergreen dipterocarp rainforest (Whitmore, 1990). The Park also includes unusual hillside heath and
padang forest formations associated with sandstone outcrops and plateaus (Wong, Saw &
Kochummen, 1987). While the majority rainforest within the Park is considered virgin, most forest
extending beyond the Park boundary is secondary and is becoming increasingly fragmented due to
expanding oil palm and rubber plantations.
In spite of various anthropogenic threats (discussed below), the Park still supports one of the
most notable faunal assemblages remaining in Peninsular Malaysia (Nor et al. 1995). The Park’s
mammal fauna (60 species) includes most of Malaysia’s larger carnivores and ungulates and at least
21 species of bat. Malayan Tapir Tapirus indicus, Asian Elephant Elephas maximus, Sambar Deer
Rusa unicolo, Wild Pig Sus scrofa and Barking Deer Muntiacus muntjak are the most common large
mammal species in the Park. The Park contains populations of five of the seven species of monkey
in Peninsular Malaysia - Dusky Leaf Monkey Presbytis obscura, Silvered Leaf Monkey Presbytis
cristata, Bearded Langur Presbytis femoralis, Long-tailed Macaque Macaca fascicularis, Pig-tailed
Macaque Macaca nemestrina; and two of Peninsular Malaysia’s three Gibbons - White-handed
Gibbon Hylobates lar and Dark-Handed Gibbon Hylobates agilis. Cat species include Tiger, Leopard
Panthera pardus, Clouded Leopard Neofelis nebulosa, Asiatic Golden Cat Catopuma temminckii,
Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis and Marbled Cat Pardofelis marmorata (Gumal et al., 2014).
A total of 253 species of birds have recorded in Endau Rompin (Chin, 2000; Davison, 1987).
The Park, together with the Lenggor and Sedili Forest Reserves to the south-east and the Rompin
mangroves to the east, have been designated as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International.
Endau Rompin also includes at least one caecilian, 51 frog species, 43 snakes, 39 lizards, and six turtles
(Wood, Grismer & Youmans, 2008).
Figure 3. Sungai Endau near Kampung Peta on the eastern margin of Endau Rompin National Park
Figure 4. Spectacular Upeh Guling waterfalls, Endau Rompin National Park
The indigenous people of Peninsular Malaysia are referred to as the Orang Asli (meaning Original
People), and are estimated to number 150,000, which represents approximately 0.5% of the Malaysian
population (Gomes, 2008). The Orang Asli consist of three principal ethnic groups, the Negrito
(northern region), Senoi (middle region), and Proto-Malay (southern region). The Jakun are a
subgroup of the Proto-Malay and are dominant in and around the Park.
The Park’s principal Jakun community reside at Kampung Peta (kampung being Malay for
village) and number approximately 220, constituting 2% of the entire Orang Asli population in Johor.
While they have adopted various modern technologies, in other ways they still adhere to ancestral /
animistic beliefs and taboos, and to varying degrees practice traditional lifestyles, including fishing,
hunting, farming, and trading of forest products (Jamiran & Wee, 2014; Sam & Wee, 2014; Sabran,
Mohamed & Bakar, 2016). The younger generation are less interested in preserving their cultural
heritage and are increasingly seeking education, contemporary lifestyles and general socioeconomic
improvement beyond their communities. The Jakun benefit directly from the Park through selling
handicrafts, homestay and tour guide services.
Existing nature-based tourism and access
The nearest major airports to Endau Rompin are in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Johor Bahru and
Tioman, the latter being in the Mersing Islands. The journey to the Park’s satellite towns – Mersing
(on the coast to the east), Rompin (on the coast to the north-east), Kahang (south), Kluang (south) and
Bekok (south) - typically takes four or more hours by car from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore along
roads of reasonable quality. A further two hours is typically required to travel from the satellite towns
to accommodation within the Park via roads in varying states of disrepair, although their poor condition
does add to a feeling of venturing ‘into the wild’.
Endau Rompin’s attractions include its rich assemblage of flora and fauna, river journeys,
rainforest walks, and the Jakun kampungs. The Park’s nature-based tourism activities and attractions
(including accommodation) are primarily based around two locations on the Johor side; Peta on the
eastern edge of the Park and Selai near the south-western border. A boat service operated by local
Jakun is available to transport visitors arriving at Peta deeper into the Park to the settlement of Kuala
Jasin, from which hiking trails ascend to the spectacular Upeh Guling and Buaya Sangkut waterfalls
and boulder pools. At Kinchin, which is the key destination and accommodation on the Pahang side
of the Park, canoes can be hired to journey downstream over a series of minor rapids and across the
border into Johor and on to Peta.
Threats to sustainable tourism
Endau Rompin is facing various pressures that threaten its long term ecological integrity and therefore
also the potential for it to attain ECERDC’s key objective of becoming a sustainable ‘internationally
recognised ecotourism destination’. These challenges are summarised as follows.
Park Size, logging and land conversion
The Park is too small for many species of mammalian macrofauna such as Tiger and Elephant to
sustain long term viable populations. Small populations are threatened by reduced genetic diversity
and an increased likelihood of population fluctuations leading to local extinction. Only when the
Park’s forest is combined with surrounding secondary forest, covering an area c.5,500km
, is there
sufficient habitat to support a viable Tiger population and other large mammalian species, though this
also assumes that forests are appropriately managed and protected (Kawanishi et al., 2003; Wildlife
Conservation Society, 2013) (Figure 5). Although there have been proposals to expand the Park, first
recommended in 1994 and then again in 2000 (Danish Cooperation for Environment and Development
[DANCED], 2000), no progress has been made. Furthermore, progress is slow in implementing the
Government-endorsed Central Forest Spine Masterplan, which aims to reconnect isolated forest
islands with core protected areas (including Endau Rompin) extending the length of Peninsula
Malaysia (Maniam & Singaravelloo, 2015). Note that the Central Forest Spine strategy and associated
National Tiger Conservation Action Plan are considered crucial to the survival of Tigers in Malaysia.
Logging of forests and subsequent conversion of land to agriculture - usually vast tracts of oil
palm and rubber monoculture - is continuing apace in the Park’s hinterland (Chiew, 2009), and indeed
more widely across Peninsula Malaysia (Yong, 2012).
Forest buffers along many river sections in Malaysia (including in the vicinity of the Park) are
becoming increasingly degraded with various adverse environmental implications, including loss of
riparian fauna; increased runoff leading to soil loss, river sedimentation, and agricultural pollution
(including from untreated palm oil-mill effluent); and flash flooding (Gray, 2014). With respect to
flooding, many towns and kampungs surrounding the Park are regularly affected, including Mersing,
Segamat and Kluang (Ngah & Othman, 2010; Gasper, 2013). Sediment loaded runoff works its way
downstream and ultimately adversely affects sensitive marine habitats, including seagrass meadows
off the coast of Mersing (Firdauz, Golingi & Oliver, 2008) and even the coral reefs of the Mersing
Islands (Association of Southeast Asian Nations / United States Coastal Resources Management
Project [ASEAN / US CRMP], 1991). Although riparian buffer zones have some legal protection in
Malaysia, much riverine deforestation occurred prior to the legislation, while subsequent to the
legislation some land managers appear to have simply ignored regulations (Gray, 2014).
In 1994 the Malaysian Nature Society predicted that Endau Rompin’s Sumatran Rhinoceros
Dicerorhinus sumatrensis population would survive for perhaps another 50 years given current rates
of forest loss. This prediction however downplayed the significance of poaching. The Park’s last
Sumatran Rhinoceros was poached in 2003, just nine years later (Song Horng Liang, WCS, pers comm.
2013). Poaching has also been primarily responsible for accelerating the subsequent extinction of
Rhino from all of Peninsular Malaysia and indeed continental Asia (Havmøller et al., 2016).
The Park’s Tiger population is also seriously threatened by poaching. The Park may now
support only 6-14 Tigers (Song Horng Liang, WCS, pers comm. 2013). While efforts are being made
by JNPC to address the Tiger poaching risk in collaboration with WCS, unless anti-poaching
enforcement measures are stepped up (combined with a concerted effort to implement the Central
Forest Spine strategy) the Tiger could well be the next high profile extinction. This would be disastrous
not only from a conservation perspective, but also a major symbolic loss in terms of the Park’s appeal
to the international ecotourism market.
Federal versus State
Whilst policies are made at the Federal level in Malaysia, the implementation of actions pertaining to
land-use and natural resource management occurs at the State level (DWNP, 2008; Tan, 2008; Ngah
& Othman, 2010; Maniam & Singaravelloo, 2015). Currently there appears to be little movement to
transpose key Federal nature conservation legislation/policies, including the Central Forest Spine
strategy, into state law. Without effective State-level support and legislation it is likely that lucrative
logging concessions will continue to be issued in sensitive forest areas just outside of the Park such as
Figure 5. Habitat requirements to support viable populations of key macrofauna (N.B. for short-term survival - that is over the next few
generations - the minimum number of breeding animals is assumed to be an effective population size of 50; for long-term survival, however,
a minimum effective size of 500 individuals is recommended [Frankel and Soule, 1981])
Sungai Mas, which was initially identified at the Federal level as being a vital link in the Central Forest
Spine chain (Chiew, 2009; Maniam & Singaravelloo, 2015).
Management and ranger numbers
Management and ranger numbers have long been inadequate for the largest lowland rainforest in the
lower half of Peninsular Malaysia, particularly given the challenges described above and below. In
this regard note that the Management Plan produced by DANCED in 2000 observed ‘it is clear that
the Endau Rompin (Johor) National Park falls well below the recommended international norm’. The
Park’s Johor side, at that time, had approximately 12 Park rangers, a figure that remained roughly
constant to the time of the present study. The Pahang side was found to be similarly poorly resourced.
Note that the World Conservation Union (IUCN) recommends that national parks and wildlife
sanctuaries should have one forest ranger for every 1,000 ha of land with protected area status, meaning
that Endau Rompin should have at least 80 rangers. It also seemed evident from discussions in and
around the Park that there is limited dialogue or joined-up management between Park authorities on
either side of the State border.
Data collected by Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) Peninsular Malaysia between
1991 and 2003, showed that the construction of Malaysia’s North- South Highway (completed in 1994)
effectively eliminated Tiger habitats west of the road (DWNP Peninsular Malaysia, 2008). New roads
fragment Tiger habitat and disrupt their behavioural patterns, facilitate the movement poachers and
logging/agricultural activities into formerly inaccessible areas, and lead to increased road casualties
(Fehlberg, 1994; WWF, 2017). Concerns have therefore been expressed relating to new road
construction proposals for areas surrounding Endau Rompin, most notable of which is the Selendang
- Selancar east-west highway, which will ultimately encompass the Park’s northern margins.
Although Park visitations have been steadily increasing, numbers are still considered very low and
revenues negligible given the Park’s size and the performance of comparable sites. Many existing
facilities are in various states of disrepair and incapable of currently attracting high-paying visitors.
Satellite towns barely recognise the Park’s existence; the ‘Park, what Park?’ phenomenon.
The Jakun community appears beleaguered and losing its self-esteem and cultural identity (Jamiran &
Wee, 2014; Mohd Sam & Seow, 2014). Jakun communities have suffered recent flooding disasters
(Jamiran & Wee, 2014); are regularly accused by Park authorities of poaching and deforestation (Johor
National Park, pers comm. 2013); and in many cases lack secure land tenure and thus face threats of
eviction by local authorities (Jonas, Roe & Makagon, 2014).
Encroachment of plantations and kampungs into the Park and surrounding forest by the Jakun
and others is also leading to increased human-elephant confrontations, particularly where Elephants
cause crop damage (Ying, 2014; Maniam & Singaravelloo, 2015).
Rainforest to Reef - A new vision for a sustainable future for Endau Rompin and its
In contrast to the single habitat or species approach to management, landscape-scale/ecosystem-based
management is concerned with the ‘complex interactions between humans and the living and non-
living environment over multiples scales in space and time’ (Clarke & Jupiter, 2010). This holistic
approach places particular emphasis on the linkages between land and sea; the implications of human
activities; conservation of ecosystems and their functions; and integration of ecological, socio-
economic and governance perspectives.
In the face of Endau Rompin’s multiple complex and overlapping pressures, such a landscape-
scale approach must be implemented: to protect and enhance the Park’s biodiversity and that of its
vital hinterland; to deliver sustainable socio-economic development; and to provide a high quality
visitor experience. In this regard our studies envisage the Park:
• Expanding in size to reduce pressure on key ecological resources, and also to incorporate any
remaining contiguous primary forest and as much secondary forest as possible; thereby creating
capacity to support viable populations of Tiger and other macrofauna.
• Recovering ecological integrity through restorative management, improved ranger services
(crucially including effective anti-poaching measures), and the creation of robust ecological
linkages with other natural/semi-natural habitats across this wider area.
• Becoming the key feature in a wider strategic development zone on Malaysia’s east coast,
stretching eastwards from the Park’s western mountaintops, beyond the Park boundary and
across the coastal plain to the South China Sea, and then offshore to the reefs and waters of the
Mersing Islands; a wider area perhaps five times or more the size of the Park.
• Being managed and branded in combination with other attractions within this expanded zone,
providing a more varied package of experiences and revenue streams, and thereby appealing
to a wider tourism market.
The authors have suggested that the proposed wider strategic development zone be referred to
as Malaysia’s new ‘Rainforest to Reef Region’, an appellation which has now been adopted for the
area by ECERDC (2016) (Figure 6). Within this wider landscape visitors are envisaged as being able
to experience a diverse range of nature inspired experiences and activities within the space of just a
few days. These might range from snorkelling among the Mersing Islands’ spectacular coral reefs; to
relaxing on the soft sandy beaches between the coastal towns of Mersing and Rompin; to kayaking
serenely along the Park’s jungle-lined rivers.
‘Rainforest to Reef’ is intended to be a distinctive eco-inspired brand affording the Park and its
hinterland a clear regional identity, distinguishing it from alternative destinations that provide a more
limited range of natural and visitor attractions. This approach is very much in accordance with
conclusions reached by others asserting that focus on the specialist eco-niche tourism market alone
will almost certainly fail to generate the revenue required to significantly impact on the regional
economy (Lumsdon & Swift, 1998; Weaver, 1999). Rather the new Rainforest to Reef Region would
also target more casual nature tourism, including sun, sea and sand tourists, who might attend
organised tours as a diversion from or as one component of a multipurpose trip.
Rainforest to Reef - zoning
Targeting a broader tourism market, however, must not compromise the integrity of core conservation
areas. In many ecologically pristine areas it is asserted that any introduction of nature tourism will
have an adverse environmental effect, which in effect implies a carrying capacity of zero (Batta, 2002).
Figure 6. Malaysia’s new ‘Rainforest to Reef Region’ is envisaged as a wider strategic development zone based around ecotourism, stretching
from the Park’s Western boundary, across the coastal plain to the South China Sea, and then offshore to the Mersing Islands
In turn this has led to the Limits of Acceptable Change concept (Stankey et al., 1985). However, far
from accepting an acceptable level of environmental degradation, others contend that true ecotourism
should tackle head-on this paradoxical relationship with the environment and achieve a net gain for
biodiversity (Blangya & Mehtac, 2006; Koens, Dieperink & Miranda, 2009). Careful zoning of
activities and appropriate visitor management, crucially combined with reinvestment of revenue
accrued from ecotourism into habitat restoration, can achieve real ecological and socio-economic
Within the new Rainforest to Reef Region the creation of the following major zones and
destinations are envisaged (Figure 7):
• Core Conservation Area; covering the entire Park and as much adjoining forest as possible.
• Community Forest Zone; promoting sustainable forest management and low-impact
• Sustainable Agroforestry Zone; promoting sustainable agriculture, and also including new
nature-based tourism attractions for visitors moving between the coast and Park.
• Riparian Forest Reserves; protecting all major river corridors linking the Park and coast and
also providing new tourism attractions in themselves.
• Emerald Coast Zone; based around beautiful eco-resorts and restored coastal forest and
• Gateway Town Zone; providing upgraded accommodation/services and celebrating the
Region’s new sustainable brand identity.
• Offshore Zone (Mersing Islands); close coordination between the Islands and mainland to
facilitate complementary tourism and other developments and sustainable land/marine
These proposed zones are described in more detail below, though within the scope of the SIP
project it has only been possible to consider zoning opportunities at a relatively conceptual level.
Further work is required to confirm the viability of proposals and to refine zoning boundaries and
Core Conservation Areas
Any development within or near the Park must not compromise the fundamental conservation
objectives of the Park. The entire Park is therefore envisaged as a Core Conservation Zone to be
afforded strict protection. Within this Core Conservation Zone a limited number of linear recreational
corridors would be provided, concentrated around existing resorts and attractions. These would cater
for two key markets: true ecotourists (whom generate moderate revenues but are considered vital for
the Park’s profile); and high-margin / luxury nature tourists, paying for the privilege of staying close
to the prime wildlife areas (impact carefully managed to a low-level through design and control of
numbers). Compatible activities within the Park would include wildlife watching and study, guided
trekking and nocturnal walks, and controlled kayaking and white-water rafting. In keeping with earlier
recommendations (DANCED, 2000), the Park boundary should also be extended to incorporate all
remaining primary forest and as much secondary forest as can be negotiated.
Community Environment Zone
Traditionally this zone would be referred to as the Park’s Buffer Zone. However, experience from
many developing countries has shown that the term ‘Buffer Zone’ can be self-defeating, implying a
top-down approach to development and planning where local communities come second place to
Figure 7. From Rainforest to Reef - zoning strategy
nature conservation interests (Lynagh & Urich, 2002) . Key to the success of this zone would be the
need to set up special synergies between inhabitants, businesses and the Park to ensure that there is a
culture of preservation for collective benefit. Mechanisms could take the form of a variety of
incentives and tax breaks for forest-friendly and sustainable activities, perhaps under Reduced
Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation programme (REDD+; Maniam & Singaravelloo,
2015). The Community Environment Zone would ideally encompass all adjacent areas of Forest
Reserve remaining outside of the expanded Park boundary, and also an appropriate buffer around each
of these. Both the Park and the Community Environment Zone should integrate with the Government’s
Central Forest Spine initiative, identifying and protecting important Tiger habitats outside of the Core
Conservation Zone. Johor and Pahang could then become the first states in Malaysia to enshrine this
vital national policy into state law, bolstering their reputations as leading states promoting nature
conservation and sustainable tourism.
Tourism and conservation strategies tend to fail if indigenous and other local communities
obtain no meaningful and sustainable benefit (Eagles, Bowman & Tao, 2001). The Community
Environment Zone concept therefore envisages concessions and permissions to harvest forest products
being granted to Jakun communities in return for commitments to implement sustainable practices and
support (and joining-up with wherever possible) the expanded Park ranger service. This zone would
also include the establishment of various cultural heritage attractions that would be integrated into
existing Jakun kampungs rather than kept separate. Integration of the two should promote
establishment of homestay, local restaurants and other services, engender pride in kampung
appearance, and generally encourage more environmentally responsible behaviour.
Sustainable Agroforestry Zone
As discussed Government and park eco-tour operators report that many visitors react negatively on
their arrival experience to the National Park, which typically involves long journeys travelling through
large tracts of oil palm and rubber plantation. All oil palm plantation owners within the Rainforest to
Reef Region would be strongly encouraged to convert to Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)
standard, or preferably more stringent environmental land management practices. Certainly no
consideration should be given to adopting more relaxed standards that have recently been supported
by elements within the industry (Rainforest Action Network, 2011).
This zone could include a Rainforest Adventure Park (or parks) to provide recreational
opportunities for locals as well as the middle/lower margin high volume tourism market. While
activities in the Rainforest Adventure Park would need to herald the Park and its assets, due to its less
sensitive context it would be able offer a much greater variety of adventure experiences than would be
possible within the Park boundary. Such activities might include 4-wheel drive and amphibious
vehicle safaris, fishing, assault and adventure courses, scout camps, orienteering, mountain biking,
water sports etc. Successful examples of these sort of activities in less sensitive hinterlands of national
nature reserves exist elsewhere, e.g. Daintree, Australia.
Riparian Forest Reserves
The Rainforest to Reef concept envisages Riparian Forest Reserves being created along all major rivers
extending between the Park and South China Sea coastline, i.e. Sungai Endau, Sungai Rompin, Sungai
Anak Endau and Sungai Pontian. Protecting and expanding riparian forest would strengthen habitat
connectivity between the Park and existing coastal forests (including mangrove), and would also
reduce soil erosion, sedimentation, flooding and pollution. The creation of Riparian Forest Reserves,
as well as reforestation elsewhere, would all form part of a wider sustainable and integrated river
catchment strategy (Ngah & Othman, 2010). Riparian Forest Reserves would also become ecotourism
attractions in themselves (including evening fire-fly displays), and where practical, provide scenic
alternative routes of access into the Park.
The Emerald Coast Zone
In Costa Rica beautiful beaches have been marketed as key assets to attract large numbers of sun, sea
and sand tourists, many of which then decide to go on short excursions into local rainforest areas
(Lumsdon & Swift, 1998; Weaver, 1999). Similarly, creating high quality eco-resorts and improving
the quality of beaches within the proposed Rainforest to Reef Region is fundamental for tapping into
this particular market. At present the coastal resorts appear to significantly underperform. A Blue
Flag award system would be encouraged, similar to that used in many other countries, whereby beach
quality is regularly assessed in terms of environmental health. Any award system must also seek to
protect and restore coastal forest/mangrove and adjacent marine habitats. It is critical though that
planning regulations ensure that intensive, chaotic and environmentally damaging resort development,
reminiscent of much of the coastline of the European Mediterranean and Costa Rica’s ‘Gold Coast’ is
avoided (Lumsdon & Swift, 1998; Driscoll et al., 2011).
Offshore (Mersing Islands) Zone
Tropical islands represent many people’s dream of the perfect holiday, and it is not surprising that
island tourism in Malaysia has been rapidly growing for the last few decades (Mosbah & Khuja, 2014).
By incorporating the Mersing Islands within the Rainforest to Reef branded attraction, there is great
potential for encouraging visitors initially attracted by an island vacation to also go on excursions to
various new mainland attractions, including to Endau Rompin. Any concurrent increase in visitor
numbers to the Mersing Islands would need to be closely monitored and regulated to avoid
exacerbating environmental impacts on marine habitats that are already becoming apparent (Praveena,
Siraj & Aris, 2012). The creation of the Rainforest to Reef Region would though be expected to
promote better coordination between the various tiers of government and land managers, including a
more joined-up approach to management of both terrestrial and marine natural resources.
Visitors to national parks also spend a relatively substantial amount of time and money eating,
sleeping, parking, shopping, and sightseeing just outside in what are known as ‘Gateway towns’. This
spending in turn can generate significant employment and tax revenues. Endau Rompin’s satellite
towns barely recognise the Park’s existence and so gain little financial reward from their potentially
financially lucrative context. The Rainforest to Reef concept envisages these towns being marketed
with the Park as a single destination. These Gateways should celebrate the Park, as well as the Mersing
Islands and wider Rainforest to Reef Region, through signage, visitor centres, tour promotions and
Rainforest to Reef – a mechanism for reduce poaching
It is imperative that the potentially catastrophic poaching problem is properly tackled as part of
Rainforest to Reef. Increased focus on nature-based tourism should lead to more regular patrolling of
the Park (and patrols within surrounding forest) by rangers and scientific research teams, and also
increased tourist visits, all of which would mean more ‘eyes on the ground’ to observe and report
suspicious and illegal behaviour. Providing the Jakun and other local communities with alternative
and legitimate sources of income would also reduce their propensity to engage in local hunting and
forest clearance, as they increasingly recognise how these activities threaten their new career
Clearly, given the scale of the problem, other measures would also need to be taken, critically
including a dramatic increase in ranger numbers (to at least 80 in keeping with IUCN guidance but
preferably to 100). This must be combined with public education programmes including within
schools. Note that within the Western Forest Complex of neighbouring Thailand, Tiger numbers have
rebounded in response to ‘relentless, systematic, boots-on-the-ground patrolling [including by
Thailand’s well-armed and trained Smart Patrol unit] and monitoring of both tiger and prey in those
sites assessed as harbouring realistically defensible core breeding populations of tigers’ (Alexander,
2011). Note though that any armed response to poaching must be proportionate to avoid recent
controversies experienced by parks such as Kaziranga in India (Rowlatt, 2017).
Rainforest to Reef – the economic imperative
The Rainforest to Reef Region would not simply promote ecotourism but rather would have a much
wider remit, encouraging green technologies and businesses as well as sustainable agricultural
practices. Where better to locate a new sustainable enterprise in Peninsular Malaysia than in the new
Rainforest to Reef Region. Some parallels can be drawn between the Rainforest to Reef concept and
the remodelling of Singapore as the ‘City of Gardens and Water’. The City of Gardens and Water
approach, which promotes of greenery and sustainable living, was described by Singapore’s former
Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, as fundamental to the differentiation of the city state from its
competitors, which in turn has attracted substantial foreign investment and talent to the nation
While the Rainforest to Reef Region would remain under the jurisdiction of Johor and Pahang, the
concept envisages the establishment of a Transboundary Executive to harmonise policies and
legislation across the new cross-border region, i.e. creating ‘two States one solution’. All vested
interests would be represented on the Executive, although the remit would be clear, to promote
sustainable economic, social and environmental development. A new planning/tax mechanism would
also need to be put in place to direct a proportion of revenue generated in the hinterland, accrued on
the back of the Park and attractions within the wider Rain Forest to Reef Region, towards habitat
restoration and management.
The Rain Forrest to Reef concept envisages the following roadmap for establishing the
(1) Cross-border Steering Committee set up to establish objectives for the sustainable management
of the Park and wider Rainforest to Reef Region.
(2) This committee would then establish stakeholder committees and partnerships, including
representatives from forestry, plantation owners, NGOs, local communities etc.
(3) Capacity assessments would be undertaken and gaps addressed.
(4) Public/business education programme would be developed to create support for the new
Rainforest to Reef Region.
(5) Necessary funding for Rainforest to Reef implementation would be identified, secured and
(6) Guidelines on development, ecotourism and agriculture would be produced to promote
sustainable practices within the region.
(7) Effective cross-border governance and administration would be established.
(8) The Rainforest to Reef Region would be formally integrated into regional, state and local
government planning policy and legislation.
While the Malaysian Government sought an ecotourism and environmental management framework
specifically for Endau Rompin National Park, it quickly became evident to the authors that any hope
of achieving meaningful socio-economic and environmental gains for the Park and the wider region
could not be realised without adopting a landscape-scale approach to nature conservation, ecotourism
and development more broadly. The conceptual solution arrived at is for Endau Rompin to become
the core attraction within a much wider ecologically enhanced landscape that we have branded as
Malaysia’s new Rainforest to Reef Region, stretching from the Park’s western extremities, to the
beaches and reefs of the local coast and Mersing Islands.
The creation of the Rainforest to Reef Region is intended to:
• Better connect the natural assets of the region and offer a range of distinctive destinations for
amenity, environmental education and enjoyment, in a way that restores, enriches and protects
the environment for future generations.
• Provide a unique and more diverse offer of destinations, including world-class beaches and
reefs, through to a range of nature-based experiences, catering sustainably for both mass and
niche tourist markets.
• Establish an integrated cross-border (Johor and Pahang) approach to the management of natural
resources and tourism, enabling the two states to share scarce resources and environmental
standards, benefit from economies of scale, and strengthen relations.
• Provide multiple economic, educational, cultural and environmental benefits for the
communities of the local area and wider region, by offering commercially viable and
sustainable alternatives to existing environmentally damaging practices such as poaching and
oil palm/rubber plantations.
• Provide a foundation for the sustainable protection and enhancement of the Park as an
internationally important rainforest, supporting viable populations of Tiger and Elephant and
high biodiversity across all biotic groups.
• Become a venue of international status, influencing sustainable tourism development
throughout South-east Asia and beyond.
ECERDC has encouragingly taken the first step towards this vision by integrating the strategy
into its policy objectives and also announcing to the Malaysian media that 'Mersing and its
surrounding islands are well positioned to become a great eco-tourism attraction, in accordance with
the Rainforest to Reef (R2R) concept. The R2R concept seamlessly links all products, assets and
development, from the Endau-Rompin National Park to world-class beaches, islands and reefs off the
coast of Mersing' (New Straits Times, 2016).
Perhaps though it will be the fate of the region’s Tiger population which will be the defining
test as to whether or not the new Rainforest to Reef Region will become merely a brand without
substance, or develops into a truly sustainably managed tourism destination of the highest international
calibre. If the Tiger can be saved from the brink of local extinction it will be the clearest evidence that
a holistic/landscape-scale approach to natural resource management and tourism is being
implemented; entailing effective control of poaching; forest restoration; and protection of riverine and
marine environments. In turn a healthier and more biodiverse landscape will attract many more
tourists, benefitting the Jakun and other local communities, as well as the wider regional economy.
We are very grateful to ECERDC for commissioning the original SIP study and for the support of
Peers Consult which coordinated the wider SIP study.
The authors are not aware of any potential conflict of interest related to the publication of the present
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