KUALA TERENGGANU: A five-year strategic plan is being finalised by Yayasan Penyelidikan Antartika Sultan Mizan (YPASM) to strengthen Malaysia’s scientific research in the Antarctic following the ratification of the Madrid Protocol in August last year.
Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau said the YPASM was also exploring to ink a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Antarctic Research Centre (NARC) to further bolster and co-ordinate our universities research activities in the polar region.
He said Malaysia has high hope of becoming a full-fledged member of the Committee of Manager of National Antarctic Program (COMNAP) three years from now after being admitted as an observer this year.
“In terms of governance and diplomacy we are now in the final stage of drafting the Malaysian Antarctic Act and hopefully can soon table the act in Parliament.
“This will be the last piece of the jigsaw to pave the way for Malaysia’s application to be a consultative party in the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM),” he said in his keynote address entitled Challenges and Future of Malaysian Polar Research at the Seventh Malaysian International Seminar on Antarctica (MISA) at Primula Beach Resort here Tuesday.
According to him, the Antarctic Act was one of the essential prerequisites of applying to be admitted as a consultative party to the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) and further strengthening Malaysia’s commitment to preserve Antarctica as a global common heritage for mankind for peace and science.
Tangau who is YPASM Board of Trustees Chairman said as an interim measure the National Polar Road Map has been developed serving as a governing tool on economic and scientific impetus.
Malaysia is also looking into applying to be a member of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) and also as an observer in the Arctic Science Council as it recognised that the Arctic too is undergoing rapid warming, hence this national polar road map is also addressing the needs in the Arctic, he said.
This means Malaysia would soon be actively engaged not only in the Antarctic but also in the Arctic.
Tangau said Malaysia’s commitment to maintain Antarctica for peace and science as well as to protecting the pristine environment had been unwavered since the Government agreed on Nov 19, 1997 to embark on research in Antarctica in the field of climate change and biodiversity.
Such commitment was highlighted among others by the working visit of former Prime Minister in 2002, the ratification of the ATS in October 2011, and later in November 2011 the visit of Sultan Mizan during his tenure as the 11th Yang di-Pertuan Agong to Scott Base, Antarctica.
He said the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s visit culminated in the setting up of the YPASM in 2012.
Another high note was in when Malaysia won the bid to host the Scientific Committee in Antarctic Research (SCAR) Open Science Conference and the SCAR Delegate Meeting last where Tangau also announced Malaysia’s ratification of the Madrid Protocol.
Through the Malaysian International Seminar on Antarctica (MISA), he said the biennial seminar organised since 2002 and with funding made available by the government through Mosti plus some additional funding from the Ministry of Higher Education, the Malaysian Antarctic Research Programme (MARP) had managed to sustain and improve the quality of Malaysian polar sciences to world standard.
MARP was set up to implement research activities by the Academy Sciences of Malaysia (ASM) Taskforce on Antarctic Research Programme.
In 2015, Malaysia also undertook its first independent research cruise, while later in 2016, eight young Malaysian scientists braved the Drake Passage in a 10 meter yacht to undertake a number of observations and sampling in the region.
“The fact that some of the young scientists has never ever sailed let alone brave the waves and weather crossing the Drake Passage to me is a silent testimony and celebration for the adventurous spirit of our young scientists and their dedication to the spirit of scientific research,” he said.
Tangau said that up to five Malaysian scientists will be travelling to Antarctica or the Arctic to collect samples or make observations each year.
Since the inception of MARP, many young researchers have obtained their Masters and PhD degrees researching in the polar region, he said, adding that Malaysia’s own Dr Siti Aisyah Alias was even cited as among the 100 top woman scientists in Antarctic.
“There are many accolades achieved by Malaysian polar scientists and postgraduates, and after the 2016 SCAR Open Science Conference at the many polar meetings our science is well receive and our postgraduates are welcome to work in some of the leading polar laboratories in Britain, Japan, Korea and Chile.
“I am proud to say that the MARP is one of the most successful and sustained international scientific program under the ASM and it is a great testimony of the commitment of Malaysia and Malaysian researchers in understanding the process in the polar regions and how it may affect directly or indirectly the tropics and more importantly our own region via sea level rise and climate change and related change in biodiversity,” he said.
Hence, the main theme of this year’s seminar – Connectivity between Polar and Equatorial Climate and Biosphere: from the Poles to the Tropics.
He said the first of the two workshops scheduled in this MISA was to assist Malaysia undertake its own independent activities in the Antarctic and to meet its obligations under the ATS and Madrid Protocol.
The second workshop is more scientific to be led by SCAR Vice President on Research, Prof Dr Azizan Abu Samah, which is tasked to determine the theme and thrust of Malaysian science in the polar region from 2018 onwards as well as exploring ways to ensure sustain government funding and also private funding of the Malaysia Antarctic research programme.
In closing, Tangau said the polar region is seen to be experiencing the most rapid warming due to climate change. In this timely switch the global focus is to understand how this warming in the polar region will affect not only the region concern but also the rest of the globe.
By developing cooperation with many national Antarctic programme collaborators, Malaysian scientists were able to work all over the Antarctica and Arctic, which had rapidly matured Malaysia’s polar research.
“I am proud to state the international community now do not ask the question why is Malaysian researching in such a faraway region?
“Now the usual question asked to our scientist is ‘are you interested to join us in this new research that we are developing in the Antarctic?’.
“That is a great achievement that now Malaysian is considered to be significant polar researching nation,” he said.