Helping Islanders Gain A Voice

holding hands
Locals now push for more efficiency in managing the marine parks. | Photo: UNDP Malaysia

People continue to be mesmerised by Tioman Island which attracts its fair share of the 25 million tourists visiting the country every year.  However, as the world’s travelling community descends here all year round, the undeniable development that affects the islanders presents both challenges and opportunities for the 3600 people living in the eight villages along Tioman’s coastline. 


  • The three pilot sites - Pulau Redang, Pulau Sibu, Tinggi, and Pulau Tioman - are in varying stages of development, and illustrate differing approaches to marine park island management.
  • Two cooperatives were established, at Redang Island and Tioman Island, as part of the platform to rally the local communities to participate in economic activities.
  • The project successfully promoted advocacy by establishing and operationalizing mechanisms for governance, information sharing, and strengthened community support. This includes Rakan Park (in Tioman Island) and Reef Rangers (in Redang Island).
  • Three business plans were developed in 2012 for the projects sites. Various trainings for different demographic groups, including for women, were conducted with funds from the project and also from co-financing sources. Support for communities has been added as a recurring item in the budget of Marine Park Department.

Having lived off fishing and the forest for generations, a great shift took place when Malaysia established a system of marine parks, gazetted in 1994, to protect and manage the marine biodiversity in the waters surrounding 42 islands.

Mr. Rahim bin Gor Yaman, Director of the Division of Planning and Management of Marine Parks in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Malaysia says, “The acceptance of marine protected areas has gone through a cycle. When we started the programme fishermen protested, they didn’t welcome the establishment of a marine park. Now after almost 20 years, all parties are involved.  The stakeholders now push for more efficiency in managing the marine parks. It has been a complete turnaround.”

He is also the Project Director of the ‘Marine Parks Project’, which was initiated by the government with support from UNDP Malaysia and the Global Environment Facility in 2007. Tioman Island was chosen as one of three pilot sites for this project. The project, on the one hand, plans to strengthen conservation and the sustainable use of marine resources. Secondly, the project aims at ensuring a holistic development of the island involving the local population with the latter driving the decision making processes for the island’s development.

The landmark formation of the Community Consultative Council (CCC), an outcome of the Government – UNDP project, is to ensure that local voices are heard at the federal and state level so as to increase their ownership of the Marine Parks through a community consultation management approach. Efforts were also put in place to ensure the CCC is institutionalised within the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. This was a ‘first’ in the Malaysian context.

Local engineer and business entrepreneur Abdul Razib Ali Awang, the head of a village called Juara, was elected leader of the CCC in 2011. The committee has 12 members and includes representatives from all the villages of Tioman as well as boat and hotel operators.

He says that “If everyone is involved, we can express what we want and our ideas. The most important thing is that the process does not leave locals out. That is why we have this committee. I want to keep this island beautiful. This is where I was born and where I live; I hope the next generation can take over and they may have fresh ideas. We have a beautiful jungle; maybe we can create a farm and explore eco-tourism. At the same time we don’t have to give up our culture as well as harm the environment.”

The good practices in Tioman Island will be replicated in other marine parks around the country. Abdul Razib says “In the beginning we were confused; we were not used to rules and regulations. We used to be free and nobody would talk about rules, for example, to just fish in certain areas, but now people actually understand better because of tourism. We have a nice product here; you don’t see places like this anymore.”

Locals have their own vision for the future of Tioman Island. Nurulhuda Sani, a young lady from Juara village, worked in the hotel business in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city for a few years. She returned to Tioman Island and is involved in running her family owned chalets by the beach in the village. She dreams that “One day, Tioman Island will be managed entirely by locals. Maybe one day we will see the businesses run by locals, the teachers will all be locals, and maybe even the doctor will originate from Tioman Island. I want to make everybody very proud of this island, proud because of the strength and capacity of our people and proud of the hard work we do for our home.  Our island is already beautiful, if we protect the environment, it’s going to be perfect.” The Community Consultative Council will pave the way for her dreams and those of other Islanders to come true.

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