Man­grove ex­tinc­tion in Pe­nang?

HUGE swathes of man­grove forests — which pro­tect coastal ar­eas and func­tion as breed­ing ground for marine life — have been cleared for de­vel­op­ment. There are fears that the en­vi­ron­men­tall­y­sen­si­tive ecosys­tems in Pe­nang could be wiped out in 10 years.

New Straits Times - - Front Page - RE­PORTS BY AU­DREY DER­MAWAN

PE­NANG risks los­ing its man­grove forests within 10 years if un­mit­i­gated de­vel­op­ment con­tin­ues to en­croach on the ar­eas.

Pe­nang In­shore Fish­er­man Wel­fare As­so­ci­a­tion (PIFWA) has es­ti­mated that there is only a quar­ter of man­grove forests left com­pared to the area in the 1960s.

PIFWA pres­i­dent Ilias Shafie said the re­main­ing man­grove forests were fast mak­ing way for de­vel­op­ment.

Ilias said the only ar­eas in Pe­nang with dense man­groves were in Balik Pulau, Se­berang Prai Se­la­tan and from Juru to the Perak bor­der.

“Right now, we do not see con­certed ef­forts to pro­tect our man­groves. In­stead, the ar­eas are be­ing cleared such as in Ba­gan Jer­mal.

“If this con­tin­ues, we may lose all our man­grove forests within a decade and our fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will never get to ap­pre­ci­ate them,” he told the New Straits

Times. The NST has re­cently re­ported that the re­main­ing man­groves along the north­ern coast of Pe­nang is­land were un­der threat by de­vel­op­ment.

PIFWA has been at the fore­front in the con­ser­va­tion of the coastal en­vi­ron­ment and re­plant­ing of man­groves,

Fish­er­men from Ba­gan Jer­mal here had com­plained that man­grove ar­eas cov­er­ing nearly 10ha, or more than 10 foot­ball fields, were be­ing cleared for a recla­ma­tion pro­ject.

Ilias said even the man­grove saplings planted by PIFWA since 1997 had been cleared for numer­ous pur­poses, leav­ing only about 250,000 from 300,000 planted.

He said when the tsunami hit parts of Asia, in­clud­ing Pe­nang in De­cem­ber 2004, the man­grove forests had helped buf­fer its de­struc­tive im­pact and this spurred var­i­ous quar­ters to have pro­grammes to plant them.

“Var­i­ous agen­cies sprouted overnight to plant man­grove saplings. How­ever, that was mere

hangat-hangat tahi ayam (spur of the mo­ment).

“We hardly see any­one plant­ing the man­grove saplings any­more... pos­si­bly, PIFWA is the only one do­ing so,” he said.

Ilias said when PIFWA first planted the man­grove saplings, it was for fish­eries pur­poses as the man­grove swamps served as nurs­eries and breed­ing grounds for many fish species.

He said over the years, the man­groves had been cleared for es­tab­lish­ing new vil­lages, such as Tan­jung Tokong, and set­ting up of in­dus­tries in Batu Kawan.

Large swathes of man­groves have also been turned into prawn farm­ing, agri­cul­ture and aqua­cul­ture ac­tiv­i­ties.

Ilias pointed out that in the case of the 214.66ha Byram Man­grove For­est Re­serve in Mukim 11, Se­berang Prai Ten­gah, where cen­tury-old man­groves were once abun­dant, many had been de­stroyed due to leachate spillage, be­lieved to be from a re­ten­tion pond at the nearby Pulau Bu­rung san­i­tary land­fill.

The other man­grove for­est re­serve in the state is the 166.38ha Balik Pulau For­est Re­serve.

“If the sit­u­a­tion is left unchecked, the for­est re­serve will be ad­versely af­fected, and the man­groves will die.”

Univer­siti Sains Malaysia’s School of Bi­o­log­i­cal Sci­ences se­nior lec­turer, Pro­fes­sor Siti Az­izah Mohd Nor, said the loss of man­grove ar­eas in some states in the penin­sula had been es­ti­mated at 1.282ha, or one per cent an­nu­ally, since 1990.

She said man­grove ar­eas na­tion­wide ac­counted for 0.58 mil­lion hectares, which were pre­dom­i­nantly in Sabah and Sarawak, in 2008.

The Forestry De­part­ment has es­ti­mated that Malaysia lost al­most 30 per cent of man­grove ar­eas be­tween 1975 and 2000 but there is no data on the size of the man­grove forests in Pe­nang.

Siti Az­izah’s col­league Dr Foong Swee Yeok, also a se­nior lec­turer at USM’s School of Bi­o­log­i­cal Sci­ences, said she had been in­volved in study­ing man­grove ecol­ogy since 1992.

Foong said mankind was behind the de­struc­tion of the man­grove ecosys­tem.

“The pres­sure on man­grove is grow­ing as the hu­man pop­u­la­tion along the coast in­creases.”

She said the sta­tus of man­groves as for­est re­serve had not spared them from be­ing cleared de­spite ris­ing aware­ness of their value.

“Most of the losses in the past 30 years were due to con­ver­sion of man­grove for­est re­serves into farm land, shrimp ponds, ur­ban de­vel­op­ment and port con­struc­tion,” she said.

Foong cau­tioned that if the man­grove forests were wiped out, the state would lose all the ben-

efits from the ecosys­tem, such as for fish­eries, coastal pro­tec­tion and sed­i­ment ac­cre­tion, car­bon se­ques­tra­tion, sil­ta­tion re­duc­tion in rivers, biore­me­di­a­tion of waste and na­ture-based tourism.

She said the mas­sive root sys­tems of a man­grove tree of­fered pro­tec­tion from tsunami wave flow pres­sure, es­pe­cially on mod­er­ate tsunami im­pacted zones such as Pe­nang.

“Man­groves have sig­nif­i­cant value in the coastal zone due to the ben­e­fits they pro­vide to the com­mu­ni­ties. Man­groves and its ad­join­ing mud­flats are ideal habi­tats and breed­ing grounds for res­i­dent and mi­gra­tory wildlife.”

For ex­am­ple, she said these habi­tats were of­ten the win­ter­ing and/or stag­ing ground for at least 30 species of mi­gra­tory wa­ter­birds, which usu­ally for­aged at ex­posed mud­flat dur­ing low tide and moved to man­grove for­est or marshes at high tide.

Foong said many of the man­groves were po­ten­tial na­ture­based tourism sites and a good ex­am­ple was the fire­fly tourism along Sun­gai Ke­rian in Ni­bong Te­bal.

“Unique and rare fauna in the man­groves fur­ther add to its at­trac­tion,” she said.

For Noor Suhaiza Zainal, 24, who pur­sued her stud­ies in nat­u­ral re­sources sci­ences at Univer­siti Malaysia Ke­lan­tan, it would be a waste if fu­ture gen­er­a­tions were not ex­posed to the im­por­tance of man­grove forests.

“Most peo­ple usu­ally as­so­ciate man­grove forests with be­ing dirty but it can be fun once you learn more about it,” she said.

Noor Suhaiza is help­ing­ing Ilias at the Pusat Pen­didikan Ke­cil Hu­tan Paya Laut in Sun­gai Acheh, Ni­bong Te­bal, which he plans to turn it into an ed­u­ca­tional for­est re­serve.

Pe­nang In­shore Fish­er­man Wel­fare As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Ilias Shafie check­ing a man­grove tree at Pusat Pen­didikan Ke­cil Hu­tan Paya Bakau, Sun­gai Acheh in Ni­bong Te­bal on Satur­day.

Noor Suhaiza Zainal

Man­groves in Byram Man­grove For­est Re­serve have been af­fected by leachate spillage from the nearby Pulau Bu­rung san­i­tary land­fill in Ni­bong Te­bal.

PIX BY DA­NIAL SAAD

Dy­ing man­grove trees in Byram Man­grove For­est Re­serve in Se­berang Prai Ten­gah, where cen­tury-old man­groves were once abun­dant.

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