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Stop reclaiming our seas

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Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) calls upon the Malaysian government to cancel all proposed coastal reclamation projects in the country.

The call is based on findings of SAM research and field surveys, which indicate that coastal communities and the marine ecosystem have been adversely affected by coastal reclamation projects. The reclamation projects also infringe on fishers’ right to livelihood.

SAM’s new publication titled “Impacts of Coastal Reclamation in Malaysia” details the biological, physical, socio-economic, socio-cultural and other impacts of reclamation, highlighting several cases in Malaysia. SAM’s study finds that coastal development and reclamation projects have robbed fishers and communities of use and access to coastal and marine resources.

Thousands of hectares of fishing grounds and marine habitat have disappeared due to the craze for reclamation. Reclamation projects abound in Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Johor, Pahang and Kelantan. For example in Penang, the state government plans to reclaim 4,500 acres south of Penang island, neglecting the heavy toll on fisher communities and marine resources.

The mining of marine sand and aggregates used for reclamation and development projects are also increasing and causing significant impacts to seabed flora and fauna. Millions of tonnes of sand have to be mined and rocks quarried to create new land.

Dredging and extraction of aggregates from the benthic (sea bottom) zone destroys organisms, habitats and ecosystems and deeply affects the composition of biodiversity. Research shows that this leads to a net decline in faunal biomass and abundance or a shift in species composition.

SAM will be submitting this publication to members of the National Physical Planning Council (MPFN) urging the council to cancel all proposed reclamation projects in the country and in particular the Penang South Reclamation project. The submission is in response to last week’s statement by Penang state executive council member Jagdeep Singh Deo that the project would be presented at MPFN in April.

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From the outset, the proposed reclamation project – involving the creation of three islands stretching from south of the Penang International Airport and eastwards to the vicinity of Permatang Damar Laut – is not needed at all. The main reason for the project is to create land banks to finance the Penang transport proposal, which is another unjustified project.

The Penang state government seems to be bulldozing its way to get approvals. Last week PLANMalaysia director general Rokibah Abdul Latif was quoted as saying that the project was not tabled earlier to the MPFN as the state structure plan was still not in place. Responding immediately, Jagdeep said the draft Penang Structure Plan 2030 is in its final stages and nearing gazettement.

A hearing on public feedback on the draft structure plan has not yet been carried out, and we fear that this exercise would be merely a sham and objections not seriously considered for revision of the draft plan. [See the state exco’s reponse]

In addition there is the question of financing the reclamation project. The finance minister last week revealed that the federal government’s debt and liabilities still hover at around RM1 trillion. It would be imprudent for the federal government to channel any funds to the state for an unjustified project. Getting soft loans either locally or from external sources would put us further into debt.

Besides wasting funds and natural resources, the proposed Penang southern reclamation project will have a tremendous impact on fisheries. Fishing activities are conducted extensively within the proposed reclamation area as well as in the surrounding sea. The project will affect the marine food chain and the fishing industry due to the total loss of mudflats. The loss of coastal habitat due to this proposed project is a major environmental blow.

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The environmental impact assessment report on this reclamation project states that the wholesale value of fish landed at the study area was estimated at RM42m, which amounted to 12.4% of the total wholesale value of fish landings in Penang Island in 2015. Adding on the downstream activities, this multimillion-ringgit fisheries sector, on which thousands depend, is being traded off for development. Fish are being wiped out, and the fishermen will soon be too as they lose fishing grounds. Is that the intention of the state government?

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kow Yeow was reported as saying that the Penang 2030 vision must be able to stand the test of the welfare of the people. “If this project does not improve the welfare of the people, then maybe we have to rethink it,” he said.

We hope that the chief minister and the state will review and realise that the Penang southern reclamation project will indeed negatively affect a wide section of the population and our environment.

Hence, SAM urges the authorities responsible authorities to cancel this proposed project and other reclamation projects that are being planned in Malaysia.

Stop sea grabbing!

SM Mohamed Idris is president of Sahabat Alam Malaysia.

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