Malaysia: 100 fishermen urge Perak MB to halt project that is destroying replanted mangroves

Jaspal Singh New Straits Times 12 Feb 14;

SHOCKER: Construction of farm is destroying mangrove forest, they say

BAGAN SERAI: MORE than 100 fishermen are asking Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir to stop a freshwater prawn project from proceeding in Kampung Teluk Rubiah.

The calls to halt the project by a private company which had been in full swing since early this month, was raised following the clearing of a mangrove forest at a site where saplings had been planted by companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), federal and state agencies.

Sahabat Hutan Bakau Kuala Gula chairman and local fishing community spokesman Zakaria Mohamad, 48, said the locals were shocked when they learnt that the 100-hectare site of mangrove replanting area had been "invaded" and cleared for a freshwater prawn aquaculture project by a company from Penang.

"We have collected photographic evidence of bulldozers being used to clear the site which we then handed over to the Kerian Land and District Office.

"We were informed that the project was legal and that most of the land in Kampung Teluk Rubiah had been acquired for the project."

In the past six to seven years, the fishermen with the assistance of government departments, the corporate sector, NGOs and university students, had planted 200,000 saplings.

Zakaria said he considered the efforts by the federal and state authorities which had spent more than RM500,000 to conserve the mangrove forest at Kampung Teluk Rubiah for eco-tourism purpose, as a waste.

"Part of the site of the aquaculture project is a feeding ground for migratory birds that fly between the northern and southern hemispheres during the winter season.

"If big projects are allowed in mangrove forest areas around Kuala Gula, we will see the number of migratory birds dwindling.

"Sahabat Hutan Bakau Kuala Gula urges the MB to intervene in this matter."

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) field officer Meor Razak said although the company was given the land to carry out its prawn project, the company should respect the mangrove conservation initiative.

Both NGOs implored Zambry to intercede in the matter while SAM urged the state government to review the approval given for the project.

Meor said the project could also affect the primary source of livelihood for the fishing community of Kuala Gula.

40,000ha of mangrove forest in Kerian district threatened by land clearing
Ivan Loh and Elween Loke The Star 13 Feb 14;

PARIT BUNTAR: One of Malaysia’s biggest mangrove ecosystems is under threat as land clearing activities have begun at a patch near Kampung Kuala Gula.

At over 40,000ha, the Matang mangrove forest in Perak’s Kerian district is the largest mangrove ecosystem in the peninsula, but it was subject to a series of land clearing activities last week.

Friends of Mangroves (FoM) chairman Zakaria Mohamed said about 6ha of mangroves had been cleared to pave way for the construction of a shrimp farm located about 30km from here.

The area is near the popular Kuala Gula bird sanctuary, where an estimated 200,000 birds stop over during the migration season between August and April every year.

“What upsets us the most is seeing our efforts in rehabilitating the mangrove swamps go down the drain,” Zakaria said.

Since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, a heightened sense of awareness about the importance of mangroves has been ingrained in the locals, especially in the Kerian area, which was one of the coastal areas in Perak to be hit.

Villagers from Kampung Kuala Gula are concerned that the removal of the plot of mangroves from a swamp by the name of Teluk Rubiah here will lead to even more land clearing.

“We have planted countless mangrove trees in the last seven years with the support of government agencies and other NGOs. But now, we do not know how much longer we can keep up with our endeavours,” said Zakaria.

The 500ha Teluk Rubiah mangroves – not to be confused with a bay with the same name near Sitiawan, also in Perak – are 6km away from the village.

Besides migratory bird watching, the Kuala Gula area is well known for ecotourism, including village homestays, boat rides to observe mangroves, fireflies, cage culture farms, traditional fishermen at work, cockle culture and shrimp paste processing factories.

Zakaria said ecotourism here would probably suffer a setback as a result of reduced mangrove forest cover, as migratory birds would seek other places for shelter.

Malaysian Nature Society conservation head Balu Perumal said the locals were upset and at the same time anxious about the land clearing activities, with FoM having reported the matter to the district office.

“The Forestry Department and the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry have also been notified about the matter,” said Balu, adding that locals had helped to plant about 200,000 mangrove trees there.

“If there is any other swamp land in Teluk Rubiah that has fallen into private hands, we hope the authorities can reacquire it and convert it into a community park,” he said.

A spokesman for a shrimp farm confirmed that the land was privately owned but declined to elaborate further, while the Kerian Land and District Office could not be reached for comment.

Malaysia: We should protect our mangroves
Audrey Dermawan New Straits Times 17 Feb 14;

COASTLINE PROTECTION:These 'living sea walls' are more effective than concrete structures during a tsunami, say researchers

SHOULD development projects that benefit only a select few, be carried out at the expense of nature? This question is probably running through the heads of many Perak folk after the New Straits Times reported that a 100-ha mangrove replanting site in Kampung Teluk Rubiah, Kuala Gula had been cleared for a freshwater prawn aquaculture project.

The saplings were planted by companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), federal and state agencies over the past six to seven years.

It was learnt that a company from Penang had begun clearing the area since the start of this month, and that most of the land in Kampung Teluk Rubiah had been acquired for the project. It must be stressed that the project is legal.

The fishing community has urged Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir to halt the project.

Zambry has pledged to look into the matter and told newsmen after last week's state executive council meeting that he had asked the relevant agencies to submit a report to him.

Sahabat Hutan Bakau Kuala Gula chairman and fishing community spokesman Zakaria Mohamad said the efforts by the federal and state authorities, which had spent more than RM500,000 to conserve the mangrove forest for eco-tourism purposes, would be a waste if the land was cleared.

The concern here is whether it is right to clear the mangrove forest to make way for such a project. I am certain the fishing community and others share similar concerns. The fishermen's fear that the project would affect their source of livelihood is understandable.

As Meor Razak of Sahabat Alam Malaysia puts it: "Although the company was given the land to carry out its prawn project, the company should respect the mangrove conservation efforts."

Have the people forgotten how important mangrove forests are to us?

After the 2004 tsunami, there has been a heightened sense of awareness on the importance of mangroves, especially in the Kerian area, one of the coastal areas in the state to be hit.

Several studies found that mangrove forests have a protective role in the event of a tsunami. In one of the studies, researchers described mangroves as live sea walls that were more effective than concrete structures.

In India, mangrove forests are worshipped. The Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources has allocated substantial funds to replant much of the affected coastal zones with mangroves following typhoon Haiyan.

Isn't it strange for us to be clearing the mangrove forests for development when countries around the world are replanting them?

The country's lawmakers should be cautious when approving projects in future, especially if it concerns the environment.

If possible, feedback from people living around the project site should be taken into consideration. In this case, the fishing community or even environmentalists should have been consulted first.

It is pointless to cry over spilt milk when damage has been done. More importantly, areas like these should be gazetted to protect them from development.

The people of Perak should be proud that the Matang mangrove forest, at more than 40,000ha, is recognised as the best managed sustainable mangrove ecosystem in the world.

Everyone has a role to play to ensure it remains this way for a long time. It is our responsibility to ensure we can pass this treasure to the next generation.