Malaysia: Destruction of mangroves continues in Pitas, Sabah

Borneo Post 12 Jan 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s environmental laws which were put into place to safeguard the environment is being blatantly disregarded by the project proponents of the Pitas Shrimp Park which is also known as the Pitas Aquaculture Project, according to Sabah Environmental Protection Association (Sepa).

The project is a joint venture between Inno Fisheries Sdn Bhd which is under the Sabah Foundation and Sunlight Seafood (Sabah) Sdn Bhd.

“Environmental laws have been put into place as safeguards for the benefit and protection of all our futures and breaking these laws should be as serious as any other crime and not as something that can be ignored,” said Sepa president Lanash Thanda.

According to him, the law is clear – there should be no development activities until the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is approved.

“As far as we are aware, this project has not had its EIA approved. Is the project proponent above the law?

“This situation raises alarming questions with regards to other development projects. Does this mean that projects that are government linked do not have to follow the law?

“What has happened in this situation makes a mockery of the hard work and legal procedures that have been put in place for Sabah. Does this now mean that the people of Sabah cannot rely on the EIA system to safeguard the environment?” asked Lanash.

It has been reported that the project proponents were clearing land as early as April 2013 with commencement of earthworks for shrimp ponds but the first step of an EIA was only approved in July 2013.

In January 2014, the project received EPD approval for only the development of infrastructure such as putting in water pipes and electricity in consideration for the needs for the local community. However electricity has been available in the area since 1997. Meanwhile the illegal work on the shrimp ponds still continued.

In addition, as the area is classified as mangrove swamp, a riparian zone of 100 meters must be maintained. However upon inspection of areas that have been cleared, Sepa found that they were no riparian buffers.

This project was identified under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and Sabah Economic Development & Investment Authority (Sedia) and began clearing mangrove areas months before the EIA review meeting was even held in June 2014. It was understood at the time of the review the project’s EIA, it was rejected due to serious environmental issues that had not been addressed adequately in the EIA.

“This project has been developed unsustainably from the beginning. A state authority such as the Sabah Foundation should have acted in a responsible and accountable manner. It could even be argued that this whole ‘project’ is illegal from the start for not complying with the State Laws,” said Lanash.

The Malaysian transformation agenda is built on a platform of sustainability and inclusiveness to ensure long-term sustainability. Certification is also a large component of this programme and due to the illegal manner which this project has been carried out, no internationally recognised certification scheme will certify this project.

“Mangroves are crucial to our fisheries industry. Wildlife and local community who rely on the sources of income derived from the natural resources available. You cannot rebuild a destroyed ecosystem such as this. And this project is 39 times the size of the Kota Kinabalu Wetlands, so it is a sizeable area that has been destroyed to do an aquaculture project,” stated Lanash.

In addition, it is understood that shrimp aquaculture had a long history of devastating outbreaks of diseases throughout the nation, including in Sabah since the 1990s.

Sepa also provided photographs taken as recently as August 2014 showing the continued clearing and destruction of the mangrove system against the wishes of some of the community of the area.

“This destruction must stop immediately and the project proponents must be answerable to laws of this State and remedial efforts be carried out immediately by them at their own cost,” concluded Lanash.

'Pitas Shrimp Park needs EIA'
The Star 12 Jan 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Environmentalists are pressing for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before the Pitas Shrimp Park project at a mangrove swamp area in northern Sabah proceeds.

“As far as we are aware, this project has not had its EIA approved,” Sabah Environmental Protection Association (SEPA) president Lanash Thanda claimed.

Previous news reports said park, which is also known as the Pitas Aquaculture project, will be Malaysia’s largest prawn farm.

In a statement yesterday, Thanda said Sabah’s environmental laws, put in place to safeguard the environment, had been disregarded.

The law was clear that there should be no development activities until EIA was approved, she said.

“Mangroves are crucial to our fisheries industry, wildlife and local community who rely on the natural resources available to earn an income,” Thanda said.

Pitas firm gets EIA approval
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 15 Jan 15;

KOTA KINABALU: The company carrying out controversial mangrove clearing for a shrimp aquaculture project in Sabah’s northern Pitas has obtained environmental impact assessment (EIA) approval.

“As the EIA report for the project has been approved, any mangrove clearing within the project boundary is considered legal. No action will be taken against them unless they contravene the specified requirements,” said state environmental department director Datuk Yabi Yangkat.

The EIA allows the project proponents to carry out mangrove swamp clearing for the project.

Yabi said this yesterday to clear the air over mangrove swamps clearing in Pitas amid concerns raised by the Sabah Environmental Protection Association that the project had no approved EIA.

Yabi said among the conditions of the EIA was for the project developers to put in place mitigation measures for wildlife corridors, mangrove buffer zones, riparian reserves and rehabilitation of certain disturbed mangrove areas.

The aquaculture project is a joint venture between Sunlight Inno Seafood Sdn Bhd and state-owned Yayasan Sabah subsidiary Inno Fisheries Sdn Bhd. The EIA was prepared by DH Water and Environmental Consultant (M) Sdn Bhd.

The terms and reference for the project were submitted on May 13, 2013, and approved by the state environment department on July 10 that year.

This was followed up with the submission of the EIA report on April 29 last year that was initially rejected by the EIA review committee on June 5 but approved on Dec 19 after issues of concern were resolved.

Yabi said his department was aware of the environmental sensitivity of the project and that the EIA implementation would be monitored closely.

He said the company was fined RM30,000 on Aug 1, 2013 for commencing work on the project without EIA approval.