Another report from fz.com, this time looking at the social and environmental impact of Phase 2 Seri Tanjung Pinang project.
by Sangeetha Amarthalingam
GEORGE TOWN (March 22): The mitigation factors proposed in the second phase of the Seri Tanjung Pinang project (STP2) have given rise to scepticism instead of quelling doubts that it would solve the environmental and social impacts.
Two US-based scientists Dr Mark Chernaik and Dr Heidi Weiskel’s comments on the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) reveal that resolutions to reduce the effects on mudflats, fishing areas and coastal habitats seemed weak.
Chernaik and Weiskel, who are scientists with Environmental Law Alliance Worlwide (ELAW) US, presented their observations after studying the DEIA that was displayed for public feedback between Jan 21 and March 7.
Chernaik said the STP2 “underestimates” and “undervalues” the project’s impact on fisheries and the environment while overstating the likelihood that such impacts could be mitigated.
Their study on the DEIA focused on the fishing industry in the northern coast of Penang Island, and the impact it would face by the release of sediment during dredging, and permanent smothering of mudflats, and other “benthic environments” that support local fisheries.
To give an idea of these impacts, the DEIA shows that the reclamation will result in the permanent loss of mudflats and seabed habitat that is home for fishery resources such as cockles, bivalves, shrimps and gastropods or snails.
“It also serves as a source of nutrients for fish and birds. In this regard, an important life-support function of mudflats is the provision of habitats for birds. “The muddy seabed serves as crustacean feeding ground and macrobenthos habitat. The loss of mudflats and seabed will result in some reduction in the amount of resources important to support marine life.
“The total area to be affected is 328ha consisting of 304ha for the reclaimed island and 24ha for the Gurney Drive component,” the DEIA read.
The report based its calculation on revenue earned from the fisheries found in the mudflat and seabed, estimating a loss of about RM3,890.93 per ha annually.
Chernaik said the DEIA study should not have used the total size of mudflats in Peninsular Malaysia as a means of calculating the “per hectare” value because not all mudflats were fished.
“The focus of calculation for the per hectare value of mudflats impacted by the STP2 project should have been on the total area in Peninsular Malaysia that is actually fished. This would result in a much lower area and hence a much higher per hectare value.
“More importantly, cockles, bivalves, snails, shrimps and prawns would not be the only species affected by disruption to the seabed habitat.
“As the DEIA correctly notes, mudflat habitat also serves as a source of nutrients for fish for a much larger area,” he said.
Thus, he said if STP2 were approved, several fishing communities such as in Gurney-Paramount, Tanjung Tokong and Tanjung Bungah areas would suffer.
Further, he said, the absence of an assessment on the loss of a “vital component” of an overall marine food chain that would impact pelagic and demersal fish species shows the underestimation of a substantial impact of the project on fishing communities.
Quoting the DEIA, Chernaik said most of the artisanal fishermen operating in the “close vicinity” of the nearshore areas utilise monofilament gill netting and trammel nets.
“These nets are mainly used to catch pelagic fish species such as the scombrids and carangids, Indian Mackerel (Ikan Kembung, Rastrelliger spp), Selar and Caranx spp.
“The pelagic fish species seek their food in the water column following the dominant tidal current.
“On the other hand, demersal fish species such as crockers and sea catfish relied on the specific feeding ground at the sea bottom such as the muddy seabed areas inhabited and colonised by abundant infauna such as polychaete and bivalves species,” the DEIA read.