TREE Foundation's Malaysian Walkway Officially Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Todays News

Pictured: The Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve in Penang Island, Malaysia.

Sarasota's Tree Research, Education and Exploration (TREE) Foundation may have based its Mission Green initiative on legendary oceanographer, marine biologist and environmentalist Dr. Sylvia Earle's Mission Blue—a global alliance educating and inspiring support to explore and protect the ocean's vital marine areas—but instead of dipping their toes into the ocean, they're hanging them from canopies in the treetops.

Dr. Meg Lowman, founder and lead biologist of the TREE Foundation, also fondly known as "Canopy Meg," announced yesterday that the Foundation's canopy walkway located in Penang Island, Malaysia—dubbed the Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve—was officially designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The installation not only helps to grow and revitalize the rainforest and its immense biodiversity, but is a fitting recognition of the unique natural and cultural heritage of Penang Island and its people. 

"Biosphere Reserves the world over are celebrated for their exceptional biodiversity and distinct social landscapes as well as for their potential to demonstrate innovative ways of living in harmony with nature,' said Dato’ Harry A. Cockrell and A.Reza Cockrell, co-founders of The Habitat Group of Malaysia. "With this designation, the Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve, which comprises 12,481 hectares of marine and terrestrial ecosystems in the north-western part of Penang Island will be counted among a distinguished global network of 714 Biosphere Reserves across 129 countries." 

The official designation was given by the International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme at a meeting held by the United Nations only once or twice a year to distinguish World Heritage sites. This one happened to take place in Abuja, Nigeria on September 15, 2021. "We just received news that the Mission Green UNESCO sanction in Malaysia went from pending to approved," shares Lowman excitedly. "We've been working with the Malaysian government for almost four years, along with a corporate sponsor which helped to build the site, and was so wonderful, they hosted a group of scientists to come out and study the area." The scientists' exploratory research, as a whole, found over 1500 species living within this tropical rainforest habitat, Lowman shares. 

The installation of the Penang Hill walkway will now work to save those species, many of which are endangered, including the rainforests themselves. The unique visitor attraction and education site ultimately helps to stimulate interest in nature and emphasize the importance of conserving the living biodiversity there. But even more so, it helps to combat the deforestation of trees to source palm oil—a robust industry throughout Malaysia and much of Indonesia where palm oil remains high in demand to make numerous consumer products, destroying the lush land of tropical rainforests in which it is found. "They will cut down an entire rainforest for the production of palm oil," says Lowman, "These trees don't just grow back. It takes thousands and thousands of years to recover those forests. Something we won't see in ou lifetime."

"We need healthy forests to provide oxygen and offset climate change," she continues. "We hope and pray these forests we're helping to conserve and protect become fabulous carbon storages for clean air and stable water. If you can't tell, we’re big advocates for saving big trees." 

Lowman goes on to share her "little baby" Myakka River State Park Canopy Walkway—TREE Foundation's original treetop walkway and pride and joy—remained the pillar of standard to which the Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve was modeled after. Meanwhile, Myakka continues to bring about half a million of visitors a year and remains an exemplar for similar forest conservation projects worldwide. "We're currently applying for funds to create more education accessibility in Myakka," she shares, mentioning treetop webcams, outdoor kiosks and educational exhibits within the park to "keep Myakka as the cutting edge, coolest walkway of the planet."

You can read more about Canopy Meg's studies and stories in her newly-released book The Arbornaut: A Life Discoveing the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us, found at Bookstore1, Barnes & Nobles and Target. 

Pictured: The Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve in Penang Island, Malaysia.

Courtesy of Mission Green - TREE Foundation. Learn more here.

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