Things are not looking good for the coastal waters of Penang, what with high contamination of heavy metals, even a dead zone, at Teluk Bahang and the proposed massive reclamation off the southern coast of Penang Island. And we haven’t even talked about the dumping of imported waste. It is all shaping up to be an environmental nightmare.
Here is Prof Aileen Tan, the director of the Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies of University Sains Malaysia, addressing the pollution in the northern waters:
On top of the 45 NGOs who had endorsed an online petition to scrap the land reclamation, another 45 NGOs, some of them fishermen’s groups, are planning to send a joint memorandum to Dr Mahathir Mohamad urging him to scrap the reclamation.
As I mentioned a few months ago, the groundswell against the reclamation is slowly but steadily building up as more people become aware of how environmentally damaging the massive reclamation and proposed transport infrastructure are.
Here is a press statement from Sahabat Alam Malaysia:
Penang’s fisheries and fisherfolk in jeopardy
The fate of more than 5,000 fishermen in Penang is in critical condition following ongoing and proposed reclamation projects and the increasingly serious marine pollution problem in the state.
Although the problems pervaded by pollution and coastal development have long plagued fishermen’s livelihood, they have not yet received proper attention from the state government or the relevant departments and agencies.
Commenting on the issue of pollution reported in the Star of 28 May 2019, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) is very concerned because Penang’s waters are not only threatened by pollution from solid waste, factory waste, sewage, mud and pig waste but also chemicals that are poisoning and killing marine life and potentially affecting public health.
According to an analysis of water samples from Teluk Bahang coastal waters two weeks ago by the Department of Chemistry, University Sains Malaysia (USM), the nickel content was 944% more than the standard 0.005 parts per million (ppm) in typical sea water. Lead and cadmium contents were also reported high at 0.804ppm and 0.065ppm (standard = 0.002) respectively.
The public and fishermen whom SAM met were surprised by the report on the heavy metal pollution in the waters off Teluk Bahang. They hoped that immediate action would be taken by the government to control the pollution from spreading and causing further impacts to the marine environment, fishermen’s livelihoods and public health.
Consumers have also contacted SAM to find out whether it is safe to eat fish caught in this area.
SAM’s survey over the past 10 years has found that fish, shrimp, shellfish, cockles and crabs – which are the main catch of coastal fishermen in the state – have dwindled and are threatened with extinction. The fishers’ income has also declined between 50% and 70%.
Waters in five districts in the state – South West, North East, Northern Seberang Perai, Central Seberang Perai and Southern Seberang Perai – are exposed to pollution and various development projects including reclamation.
SAM is disappointed that the relevant departments and agencies had not disclosed the level of marine pollution in Penang’s waters. Hence the public’s query of what the authorities have been doing is warranted.
The Department of Environment (DoE) has been monitoring marine water quality since 1978 in Peninsular Malaysia with the objective of establishing the marine water quality status and determining the pollution level from land-based and the sea-based sources. We wonder why the DoE did not disclose this issue of heavy metal pollution much earlier whereas the analysis of marine water quality has surely been conducted.
SAM believes that if the state government, departments and agencies involved are lackadaisical over environmental issues and its effects on the livelihoods of coastal fishermen in the state, not only marine life will be extinct but even fishermen and their generation will gradually vanish in the future.
Thus, SAM urges the Penang state government to address the pollution problem promptly by identifying the sources of pollution and cancelling the sea reclamation project proposal that would result in total the loss of fishing grounds and threaten fishermen’s livelihoods.
Meenakshi Raman is honorary secretary of Sahabat Alam Malaysia.