The Hills and the Sea: Scant regard for ecosystem


The above is the short documentary film by Andrew Ng, which won a grant award from the Freedom Film Fest last year.

Talking about this film is guest contributor and research scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng of Penang Forum:

I congratulate Andrew for this documentary that conveys a powerful message regarding the environmental impacts of development projects that encroach upon the hills of and the seas around Penang Island.

We often tend to focus on impacts that development has on people. We tend to be human-centric because we think we are the most important creatures on earth. The recent floods and landslides that occurred earlier this month (November 2017) and over the past couple of months indeed show the misery that humans (ie Penangites at large) can suffer from environmental impacts that accumulate from rapid development without proper planning.

But this film brings a fresh perspective in highlighting impacts on the inhabitants of the forest, represented here by the langur. Using the langur to depict the affected wildlife is appropriate. Naturally a shy and reclusive animal, it is not often seen and heard in the wild and is therefore conveniently ‘forgotten’ or ignored, together with hundreds and thousands of other forest species, when the drive to clear more land for development pushes further into the hills.

“So what if we lose a few monkeys,” it may be argued. “After all they are increasingly becoming a nuisance, getting into our brand new houses and gardens.”

Now, who is encroaching into whose territory? This film provides the monkey’s perspective.

It is emphasised in the film that the langur plays an important role in the ecology of the forest, including the dispersal of seeds that grow into trees that form the basic structure of the forest. Without this basic structure, none of the other forest denizens can live and survive. Within a well-balanced ecology of the forest, every living thing has its role to play besides reproducing to perpetuate its species. In technical language, this role is called ecosystem service.

The forest as a whole, with all its inhabitants, plays an overarching ecosystem service to us as humans. Those of us whose houses were invaded by mud-laden flood waters just three weeks ago or who were caught in massive traffic jams as the roads of George Town turned into rivers the colour of teh susu would have wondered – where did all this mud come from? It couldn’t have been from Typhoon Damrey which was blamed for bringing the torrential rains from Vietnam, overnight to Penang and Kedah.

The forest cover of natural hill slopes holds the soil in place – an important ecosystem service. When the forest is indiscriminately cleared and steep slopes are exposed to the elements, the soil gets easily dislodged and washed down with the gushing waters that overflow from bloated streams and rivers. So there is after all some connection between the langur and the floods of Penang.

The importance of ecosystem service hits home more starkly when we as humans consume the things that nature produces, and this includes fish (broadly covers crabs, prawns and other aquatic food). Turning to the ‘sea’ portion of this film, the focus is on the plight of the fisher communities along the north coast.

I will focus on the ecological aspects of such land reclamation projects. The ecology of the coastal waters is even less obvious to us because everything is underwater. So we don’t see the rampant destruction to the sea bed and the living creatures on it, in it, and in the column of water above it.

If actions similar to the scraping of the sea bed, the drilling to extract sand and the dumping of sand on another spot is done on land and is visible to all, people will be screaming “Rape of the land”. How about rape of the sea?

The most obvious consequence is of course less fish to catch, not to mention that these devastated underwater grounds are off-limits to the fisher communities who have been eking their livelihoods there for generations. They are expected to look for other fishing grounds further afield and, according to the detailed environmental impact assessment report of the Seri Tanjung Pinang phase two project, public institutions like USM and LKIM are supposed to find new fishing grounds for them. But where – when the coastal waters all around the peninsula are already fished and overfished?

The detailed EIA was also supposed to evaluate and estimate the costs of environmental impacts of the project. Not only was the marine biology sampling found to be inadequate, but the marine catch was grossly undervalued. For example the shrimp catch from these waters was valued at US$200/tonne. This converts to RM0.70/kg at prevailing forex rates at the time of the study (2014). In February 2014, medium-sized shrimps were sold in Penang at around US$20/kg, a hundred times the value estimated in the detailed EIA. And this valuation is done only on the direct use value (ie what humans would pay for the shrimp), not the ecosystem services value of the marine ecology.

This was among many other valid criticisms of the detailed EIA that were submitted to the Department of Environment, which nevertheless approved the DEIA rather promptly, thus giving the green light for the Seri Tanjung Pinang phase two project to proceed.

This goes to show how little people, especially developers, value the coastal waters ecosystem. Land reclamation in the shallow coastal waters is seen as a cheap way of making new land that is unencumbered for even more development of high-end property that is beyond the reach of most Penangites.

This piece was written in November 2017.

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Andrew Ng is lucky to be able to do such work in Penang.

My friend was filming at Pengerang, Honor, 3 years ago for a home made YouTube documentary on how the petrochemical project could ruin the ecosystem and the lobster habitat but he was harassed by the authority, video footage was deleted etc.


There you are. Pg gomen can easily bullied. How can cm be the tokong if can be bullied? Pg lang gives no right for man to defend himself. Pg lang is just extension of dummo.


Still trying the weeping (for NK)?
Weep some more after GE!


… Bark more and continuously and every action


Anil, Andrew Han or Andrew Ng directed this video?


Ah pek, people cant use different names?


Only you can – zoro > shriek!
Excusable for your dedak sake!
The more name changes, the more open your identity is to us.
Already Bunians know where you are!


Rapid Pengerang & Sungai Rengir Johor – 27 Jan 2018

Lobster habitat replaced by oil refineries.

Ma jiji

Those politicians only know playing sensitive issues, how can they find time to really, really look at our plights ? Again now, they are arguing about – Chicken and Telur and sugar king, which comes first ?!


Director’s Thoughts: The Hills and The Sea

Thanks Andrew for your enlightening video. Looking forward to more thought provoking videos badly needed for many … in the frenzies of slippery development brought by NK & greedy developers.


Continue – This year will still see more natural calamities due to floodings, landslips, rock slides, sunken roads, etc. But who arrogant cares? Just weep & all will be forgiven by sentimental souls! Note: Anil, I appreciate your relentless efforts, the same by Andrew Ng, YB Teh, Khoo Salma & many others. Too bad the GE is too near & the inevitable shift of conscience (battling crimes against environment) towards worshipping those who play Weeping Heroes against the Blue Ocean Strategists may not favour your honest effort for the time being. Nevertheless, Keep Up the Heat! The battle is not… Read more »


Keep driving your 4wds in urban penang and look for cheap curry mee. Then home to your condo bird nest thnks to the developer building home sweet home


You think you care? Driving 4wd in urban city and ronda2 like matta just selective looking for cheap curry mee?


Anil, in their worshipping fever not to see any obvious wrong with CAT Gomen, your article may not sink in the harsh realities of frenzied, callous development thro’ their hardened cranial tempurongs. A lot has been said, displayed, argued & even proven by Nature’s wrath, still the CAT Gomen led by CNK is absolute vodka arrogant. Even dares to blame others as far back a cat’s life cycle! They behave like Mafia / Taikor to ditch a caring YB who dared to not toe the CAT’s line in serving the people. Service life of a caring with conscience YB is… Read more »


Ah pej loves to mention vodka. Being drinking a lot? Vodka not cheap. No commrade?


Nothing better comment for Friday morning?
TGIF! Try shrieking at PJ pubs & you will be a boot!
Btw, go to MACC in Putrajaya to apologise on behalf of Idol CNK.


Ah pek not only hunt for curry mee but vodka early in the morning. No wonder with few shots ah pek can tipsy comment a lot. Getting vodka in pg no problem with so many rumah tumpangan?

Ma jiji

Breaking news from The Edge today….. GEORGE TOWN (Feb 27): Pilgrims Fund Board (Lembaga Tabung Haji) chairman Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim, who has been served with a letter of demand by Penang undersea tunnel developer Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd (CZC), said he does not know the company. “I have no idea who Zarul (CZC senior director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli) is and I have never heard of Zenith Construction before. I have never communicated with them,” Abdul Azeez said when contacted today. According to sources close to CZC, the company has accused Abdul Azeez and a… Read more »


“ little… developers, value the… ecosystem” Is it up to developers, or any other capitalists? Are we not a democracy, and above all rational? “Business leaders conducting propaganda to convince people that anthropogenic global warming is a liberal hoax understand well how grave the threat is. Yet, they feel compelled to maximise short-term profit and market share. If they do not, someone else will.” – Prof Noam Chomsky, 2011 “According to economics or political science, we seek to maximise our individual wealth. This is regarded as democratic on the grounds that everybody has a vote. In reality, the power of… Read more »


More bad news. So, enjoy and keep our heads in the sand?

Joo Huat

Read today Star headline scavenging old sunken ship steel off Malaysian waters will endanger coral life?


Who is there first? Coral or ship? The greatest treat is global warming. Raise in sea level and temp will wipe out thousand acreas of coral easily. Ah pek should not be using 4wds ronda2 for cheap curry mee.


NK is clever to push the blame to the previous gomen & promised to help the affected fishermen. But to continue the direction of development (b’cos hands are tied) means the ultimate death kneel for the fishermen. No amount of money will compensate their livelihood which is generations-old since the 18th century.
NK, you are a clever spin+blamer never seen since the first CM of Penang.
You better pack up + go back to Melaka back lanes to learn simple lessons of what is conservation & sustainable development.


Yes sustainable when ah pek use 4wds in urbanised penang when it is overpopulated with cars