Under the Penang Structure Plan (2005-2010), major land reclamation has been slated for Penang. But how will this affect water quality and fisheries in the state?
Under the Plan, the following projects are slated as part of reclamation in Penang (as highlighted in a 2007 presentation by JPS):
- artificial islands in Tanjong Tokong
- Gurney Drive reclamation
- an artificial island in the Middle Bank (which is an eco-sensitive fisheries area)
- the area north and south of the Penang Bridge
- the extension of the North Butterworth Container Terminal to Teluk Air Tawar (long stretch, that)
- the Penang Airport expansion
Now, some of these ambitious plans were obviously planned with the controversial Penang Outer Ring Road in mind. Of late, though, talk has re-surfaced about land reclamation involving the Middle Bank, between Queensbay and the Light project.
The Middle Bank is the shallow part of the straits between the island and the mainland. Of course, hydrological studies would be necessary if reclamation is carried out here.
But the problem is that biologists had pointed out that, since the 1970s, the Middle Bank has been the breeding and nursery area for many of the commercial species of fishes of Penang. The groupers (kerapu) have their nursery and feeding grounds there. Thus, apart from hydrological studies, a study/survey should be carried out to determine if the Middle Bank is still a nursery and feeding area for fish before any decision on reclamation can be made.
At present, fisheries appears to be a neglected sector in Penang’s development plans, or maybe it just doesn’t seem to be a big priority – which is a pity as Penang is surrounded by water (albeit much polluted). If we want to ensure our future food security and self-sufficiency (think of the fish shortage and the soaring price of fish in the market), it would be time to prioritise the fisheries sector (and I am not referring to aquaculture here), safeguard fishing waters and improve the lot of our fisher folk. Remember, we can eat fish, but we can’t eat (semiconductor) chips!
Over on the mainland, some major expansion work also appears to be underway in Butterworth near the North Butterworth Container Terminal. Phase 3A is set to add 600 metres to the existing 900-metre wharf. The Penang Port plans to reclaim 404 hectares for various activities, reports the Dredging Today website. Has any study been done on the impact on water quality and fishing?
The JPS presentation in 2007 identified deterioration of coastal water quality (as a result of reclamation; sand mining; commercial, industrial and residential activities; and encroachment of environmentally sensitive areas). High levels of E. coli level, turbidity and suspended solids were found.
Is it any wonder that the Pantai Bersih fisher folk near the port in Butterworth have complained of dirty or muddy water?