Background and Objectives
The Imbak Canyon Conservation Area (ICCA) Scientific Expedition is jointly organized by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) and Yayasan Sabah and is expected to galvanise scientists to help develop capacity and understanding in addition to expanding the network of stakeholders to determine measures for the sustainable use of natural resources. In addition, the expedition will lead to the establishment of new campsites to facilitate better collection of data and information that will enhance inventory taking and measures for the conservation of Imbak Canyon. Three main objectives have been identified:

Expedition Promotional Poster

Poster Credit: ASM & YS

1. To enhance knowledge of the Imbak Canyon Conservation Area
2. To build capacity and capability of local scientists to carry out expeditions in the
tropical region
3. To develop long term research cooperation at both national and international levels

Imbak Canyon Conservation Area

Imbak Canyon Conservation Area, was voluntarily designated a Conservation Area by Yayasan Sabah in 2003 for purposes of research, education and training as well as development of eco-tourism and biodiversity activities. In 2008, the Sabah State Government designated the area a Class I (Protection) Forest Reserve. With a total area of almost 30,000 ha, ICCA encompasses two ridge-top Virgin Jungle Reserves plus the Canyon itself and makes a significant contribution to the coverage of protected areas in the centre of Sabah.

ICCA defers from Danum Valley and Maliau Basin Conservation Areas in that ICCA consists of undisturbed pristine lowland rainforest dominated by dipterocarp trees but perhaps its most significant attributes is its richness in medicinal plants. With more than 55 species identified as valuable medicinal plants and being used by the local community, it is well on its way to being dubbed a “living pharmacy”. Perhaps, new cures for certain illnesses will be found here! As a large part of the Canyon has yet to be explored, ICCA is very much still a mystery. There is no doubt this expedition would be able to solve some of the mysteries. The research fields that shall be covered during the expedition are flora and fauna diversity, water and aquatic life diversity, physical and landscape diversity, local communities and eco-tourism.

Geology of Imbak Canyon
Imbak Canyon, a huge elongate valley located along the Imbak River is a rare geological landscape in Sabah. The canyon was the result of continued erosion by the Imbak River and its tributaries. The Imbak Canyon area is underlain by sedimentary rocks consisting of sandstones and mudstones. The sedimentary rocks in the Imbak Canyon are part of a circular to sub-circular Neogene sedimentary formation in Southeast Sabah. The sedimentary rock units represent the northern continuation of the sedimentary units in the Maliau Basin and Lake Linumunsut areas. The moderately dipping (30-40 degrees) interbedded sandstone and mudstone layers, forms part of the Kapilit Formation. The Imbak Canyon floor, especially along the Imbak River is covered with recent fluvial deposits.

Flora and Fauna of Imbak Canyon
Imbak Canyon has different types of forest; lowland dipterocarp forest and rare lower montane heath forest, a lower altitude version of „kerangas‟ of Maliau Basin, with its special magical world of small, slender trees, pitcher plants and orchids.

As a potential site for biotechnological research, ICCA has proved to be a rich source of medicinal plants, with more than 69 different species found inside the Conservation Area. Nepenthes hirsuta has also been found in the lower montane heath forest, only the second sighting in Sabah, the other being in the Maliau Basin.

Although only a small part of ICCA has been explored, it has already revealed itself to be the home of some of Sabah‟s most rare and endangered species including the borneon pigmy elephant and proboscis monkey. So far, at least 100 bird species have been recorded, including five bird species endemic to Borneo, i.e the Blue-headed Pitta, White browed Shama. To date only a small part of the Canyon has been explored through two scientific expeditions.

The first expedition initiated by the Sabah Forest Department in 2000 was carried out in an area at the entrance to the Canyon, while the second expedition was carried out in 2004 in the heart of the Canyon by Yayasan Sabah with participation from various organizations, local and overseas.

Imbak River Crossing

Photo: GJL- crossing the Imbak River

Eco-Tourism of Imbak Canyon
Tourism activities in a protected area can serve as a self-financing mechanism and therefore a tool of conservation. This will only be possible if the level, type and management of tourism are appropriate and in particular the “carrying capacity” of the area is respected. Research need to be undertaken on ICCA‟s tourism potential and its carrying capacity and how it can help in the protection of the area. In the range of nature tourism products in Sabah, Imbak has a unique niche. It combines remoteness, dramatic landscapes and large size and truly undisturbed nature experience. Furthermore the area is uninhabited. No other wilderness can offer similar attractions. The eco- tourism possibilities for Imbak are enormous. Towards this effort, studies are crucial.

Local Communities of Imbak Canyon
There are communities living in areas surrounding ICCA, and these communities have been known to have an integral and intimate link with ICCA especially in relation to their knowledge base, cultural tradition and practices. Studies in this field are crucial towards conserving ICCA.