Malaysia: Call to preserve seagrass bed in Penang

New Straits Times 17 Mar 14;

IMPORTANT ECOSYSTEM: The seagrass is also a source of marine food

GEORGE TOWN: PENANG is at risk of losing its one and only seagrass bed to development.

This is because of a proposed reclamation of a 125ha middle-bank near Gazumbo, a small uninhabited sandy island which can be seen from the first Penang Bridge.

The proposed reclamation project is part of the Penang Structural Plan gazetted in 2007.

Aware of the importance of the natural habitat, Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu had suggested in the state legislative assembly sitting in December last year that the seagrass bed be excluded from the proposed reclamation.

Speaking to reporters recently after visiting Gazumbo, Teh said the seagrass bed should be preserved because it is the natural ecology and habitat of marine life.

"The bed should be preserved as an ecological site. Marine life would be affected if the seagrass bed is destroyed.

Teh said the middle bank should be used for research and ecosystem purposes.

"It is important for the middle bank to be removed from the reclamation proposal.

"If not, the ecosystem may be destroyed in the name of development," he added.

Teh said the bed also protected fishermen from the strong waves when they are at sea.

Meanwhile, state Legislative Assembly speaker Datuk Law Choo Kiang said the seagrass bed should be exempted from any development.

He said the state government should protect the seagrass bed to maintain the ecology of the area.

According to Law, the bed has existed for more than 50 years and the seaweed and seagrass on the bank have become a source of marine food.

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) environmental biology graduate Wong Yun Yun said there were at least four species of seagrass found on the middle bank, including Halophila ovalis, Embalus acoroides and two others from the same species.

She said the species were among 60 species found in the world and among 18 in the Straits of Malacca.

There are also other marine life including Stichodactyla sp., Ulva reticulata, Amphiroa fragilissima, Fan Shell, and Brittle Star.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said any reclamation could only proceed if it fulfilled the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) report.

"If there is no compliance with the DEIA report, there will be no project. We will leave it to the Department of Environment.

"Whatever decisions we made have to depend on studies and technical advice, not just sentiments and emotions," he added.

Read more: Call to preserve seagrass bed - Northern - New Straits Times