TASIK KENYIR ‘PEARL OF THE EAST’

A con­certed ef­fort is needed to de­sign a mas­ter­plan for sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment of the lake

New Straits Times - - Opinion - rosliza­karia591@gmail.com The writer is NST's Spe­cial­ist Writer based in Tereng­ganu. He is an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and en­joys cap­tur­ing the beauty of flora and fauna in their frag­ile en­vi­ron­ment. He draws his in­spi­ra­tion from cross coun­try drives on and off-r

ON Aug 1, the en­tire 260,000ha of Tasik Kenyir was of­fi­cially de­clared a duty-free area, with the Royal Cus­toms De­part­ment mak­ing its pres­ence felt at the one-way check­point, which once al­lowed a two-way traf­fic.

The trans­for­ma­tion is long over­due fol­low­ing lo­gis­ti­cal prob­lems posed by the de­vel­op­ment of Pu­lau Bayas, an is­land about a 30-minute boat ride from the en­try point at Pengkalan Gawi. Pu­lau Bayas will be the fo­cal point for shop­pers once op­er­a­tional at the end of the year.

For the mo­ment, vis­i­tors can shop at a duty-free area to get a feel of big­ger things to come. But, Tasik Kenyir will be­come more than a shop­pers’ par­adise as it is al­ready known as an an­glers’ par­adise and a haven for natural at­trac­tions.

The good news is that the Cen­tral Tereng­ganu De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (Keten­gah) is try­ing very hard to make the lake the “Pearl of the East” by first fo­cus­ing on hy­giene and safety, and de­vel­op­ment that will not dam­age the en­vi­ron­ment.

With the Cus­toms’ rule that one has to stay within the lake for 48 hours to be el­i­gi­ble for taxfree sta­tus, the ex­pec­ta­tion is that vis­i­tors will most likely hire house­boats for at least two nights, which will al­low them to dis­cover the at­trac­tions at the lake.

The tim­ing is just right to wel­come shop­pers at the duty-free shops at Pengkalan Gawi dur­ing the long school hol­i­days. It may take a while, though, be­fore it can match the pop­u­lar­ity of Langkawi, which had years of head start.

But, with more peo­ple vis­it­ing and stay­ing on house­boats in Tasik Kenyir, san­i­ta­tion will be a ma­jor prob­lem.

The prob­lem will be com­pounded when shop­ping zones at Pu­lau Poh and Pu­lau Bayas are fully func­tional by end of next year.

In view of the ob­vi­ous prob­lems re­lated to san­i­ta­tion and hy­giene, it will be more ef­fec­tive if Keten­gah and other re­lated agen­cies start ed­u­cat­ing, not just the pub­lic, but also those who ply their trade in Tasik Kenyir, which is about the size of Sin­ga­pore.

The catch­ment area, which has the ca­pac­ity to hold 13.6 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of wa­ter, was ini­tially de­signed for hy­dro­elec­tric power gen­er­a­tion.

Tourism ac­tiv­i­ties were ac­tive five years af­ter the Sul­tan Mah­mud Hy­dro-Elec­tric Dam was com­mis­sioned in 1985.

The abun­dance of com­mer­cially high-priced fish such as ke­lah, baung, lam­pam, se­ba­rau and toman (snake­head) at­tracted nearly 200 fish­er­men.

The in­ten­tion to al­low fish­er­men to sell the fish to sup­ple­ment their in­come was no­ble, ini­tially.

But in just about 20 years, signs of rapid de­ple­tion of the re­sources be­came ob­vi­ous.

The fish­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, which rise parallel to the tourism in­dus­try at the lake vicin­ity, ev­i­dently were not a sus­tain­able proposition as the lake, pro­moted as an “an­glers’ par­adise” quickly lost its at­trac­tion when an­glers as far as Sin­ga­pore started com­plain­ing of poor catches.

Then in 2005, for­mer menteri be­sar Datuk Seri Idris Ju­soh de­cided to ban com­mer­cial fish­ing in the lake, which en­cour­aged house­boat tourism ac­tiv­i­ties. Un­for­tu­nately, house­boat op­er­a­tors took the fish­er­men’s role to catch fish us­ing pro­hib­ited means to please their guests.

Thanks to Keten­gah, il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties achieved some mea­sure of suc­cess with the seizures of gill nets at ma­jor fish spawn­ing grounds; such as Sun­gai Pe­tang, Sun­gai Pe­t­uang, Sun­gai Tem­bat, Sun­gai Le­ban and Sun­gai Man­dak.

But that did not stop il­le­gal fish­ing. The rea­son is that the lake is sim­ply too big to plug all lorong tikus (il­le­gal routes) made by il­le­gal fish­er­men, es­pe­cially in the north­ern and west­ern sec­tors of the lake.

To pre­vent fur­ther de­ple­tion of the fish re­sources, the gov­ern­ment de­clared Sun­gai Pe­tang and Sun­gai Le­ban as sanc­tu­ar­ies. This move turned Sun­gai Pe­tang into a must-visit des­ti­na­tion and soon book­ings for house­boats needed to be made at least three months ahead.

What is wor­ry­ing is that nearly all the 73 house­boats dis­charged human waste straight into the lake since 1986.

It is af­fect­ing the wa­ter qual­ity in the lake, es­pe­cially with nearly 300,000 vis­i­tors recorded in the first seven months this year.

It is still not too late for Keten­gah to make it manda­tory for house­boats to in­stall hold­ing tanks.

These in­stal­la­tions must be ready well be­fore the duty-free ar­eas at Pu­lau Poh and Pu­lau Bayas open for busi­ness.

In ad­di­tion, lo­cal uni­ver­si­ties should start con­duct­ing re­search on wa­ter qual­ity in the lake.

This re­search can help es­tab­lish a base to chart the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of wa­ter qual­ity, iden­tify the con­trib­u­tors to the pol­lu­tion and rec­om­mend mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures.

Univer­siti Malaysia Tereng­ganu, which has started build­ing its re­search cen­tre near Pengkalan Gawi, should take the lead and col­lab­o­rate with other uni­ver­si­ties to pro­tect the na­tional as­set from be­ing af­fected by degra­da­tion re­sult­ing from human ac­tiv­i­ties.

It will re­quire a con­certed ef­fort from all par­ties, es­pe­cially Keten­gah, house­boat op­er­a­tors, hote­liers, chalet op­er­a­tors and the uni­ver­si­ties to de­sign a mas­ter­plan to chart a sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment for Tasik Kenyir.

With the Royal Cus­toms De­part­ment be­com­ing an­other key player af­ter Keten­gah, it is time for the gov­ern­ment to form a ded­i­cated au­thor­ity to look af­ter Tasik Kenyir, sim­i­lar to the Langkawi De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity, which takes care of Langkawi is­land.

FILE PIC

Tasik Kenyir is an an­glers’ par­adise and a haven for natural at­trac­tions.

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