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NEWS UPDATES 23 August  2010

Brunei future tied to forest

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With some of the most unspoiled rainforests on Earth and a firm commitment by the government to keep them that way, Brunei's pristine ecosphere has great potential to boost its tourism sector, the Oxford Business Group (OBG) said.

It also presents a range of scientific research and development opportunities that could generate spin-offs in a number of industries, the think tank said in a paper published online.

OBG noted government efforts to explore and study the Sg Ingei Protection Forest in the western Belait district, which illustrate that Brunei sees its economic future tied to its forest resources.

Indeed, the Brunei Tourism Board had said it intends to promote Sg Ingei forest as a premium eco-tourism destination.

The board's chief executive, Sheikh Jamaluddin Sheikh Mohamed, said that listing the forest as a national park would maintain and safeguard the forest's pristine nature, noting that eco-tourism was one of the key strengths of the sultanate's tourism industry.

Brunei possesses more than 70 percent forest cover.

The Sg Ingei region covers 18,491 hectares of the Labi Hills Forest Reserve, near Sarawak's Gunung Mulu National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site.

Deep in Sg Ingei, teams of researchers from the Universiti Brunei Darussalam, backed by the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources and supported by the Heart of Borneo Council and WWF, are conducting Brunei's first-ever biodiversity study.

The two-year study aims to garner the scientific data necessary to protect Sg Ingei, since there are plans for it to be designated as a national park, as well as improve the understanding of its ecosystem.

The Oxford Business Group noted that there is much talk of the forest's potential as an eco-tourism destination, amid hope that it could follow in the footsteps of Ulu-ulu Temburong National Park in the southeast.

Ulu-ulu Temburong pioneered eco-tourism in Brunei over the last decade and has since become one of the country's major tourism draws, it said.

OBG said potential for growth also exists in the area of scientific research and product development, noting Ulu-ulu is already the location of a Universiti Brunei Darussalam field study complex, and it received a major boost recently when a new research centre into climate change was established with help from America's Smithsonian Institute.

"The Brunei Tourism Board is waiting for Sungai Ingei to receive its full designation as a national park. Once that happens, it will set up facilities and open up access to visitors," OBG said.

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