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Sand mining destroys the livelihood of fishermen

  • The Penang South Reclamation project will increase the island's size by around 4,500 hectares, but the livelihood of its fishermen will be threatened.

By Mariam Mokhtar

The "Bantah Tambak" protest at parliament, on 11 July, by 200 fishermen and their supporters, is not a demand for compensation, or a protest against development.

When the Penang state government builds its three artificial islands, in the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project, the island will increase in size by around 4,500 hectares. More importantly, the livelihood of its fishermen will be threatened.

Moreover, Perak can do without the environmental destruction that is forecast to its shoreline as the sand to construct these islands, will be mined from the sea off its coastline.

This demonstration is not about the progress of Perak against that of Penang. The protest is about protecting the rights of the fishermen, in both Perak and Penang. It is also about safeguarding the environment and protecting the quality of our waters.

Sand has long been recognised as an international problem. On 3 October last year, prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, ordered the government to ban all sand exports to Singapore. It was a move to stop the illegal smuggling of sand, and the involvement of corrupt government officials.

Ever since the island gained its independence in 1965, Singapore has expanded its land mass by one quarter. Sand from neighbouring Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as from Cambodia has been used to increase its land mass.

It is reported that Indonesia has lost vast quantities of coastal sand and around 24 islands have disappeared, because these islands and beaches are not patrolled or inhabited.

Some Cambodians are furious that Singapore has been able to extend its territory, whilst they have lost valuable sand and islands to the wealthy island nation. They have experienced a reduction in fishing catches, their coastal areas have become prone to flooding and beach erosion.

Erosion happens because the protective layer of sand that acts as a buffer, against the action of the sea on the land, has been stripped by the Singaporeans for their own territorial expansion.

In Mumbai, journalists who report on illegal sand mining activities have been killed by the sand mafia.

Although some Malaysians may be furious with Singapore's voracious appetite for sand, the people of Perak are angry that the PSR project has the potential to damage their environment.

Many of the people who oppose the PSR project and the sand mining, have claimed that research into the mining of sea sand has not been fully investigated. They claim that the livelihoods of around 6,000 fishermen from Perak, and a further 1,800 fishermen from Penang's Teluk Kumbar and Teluk Bahang are at risk.

Few people realise that taking sand from one area, and dumping it elsewhere, could pose a threat to the environment. They are unaware that sand mining has the potential to pollute the environment and destroy ecosystems.

Beach erosion will damage infrastructures, such as roads, bridges and buildings and uproot trees which line the beach. Removing the sea bed of sand, will expose rocks which can damage fishermen's nets and boats.

Fishermen have already suffered reduced catches but constant and costly repairs may put them out of business altogether.

Sand mining, and sand dumping, will muddy the waters, and the affected ecosystems may never recover. These areas contribute to the well-being of shrimp, crabs, shellfish, fish and coral reefs. Their destruction is one cause of the drop in the fishermen's catches. People who have invested heavily in aquaculture and mariculture projects are also worried.

Destruction of the mangrove swamps may threaten the bird sanctuary at Kuala Gula, in Matang. The sanctuary attracts tourists from all over the world, and the risk to eco-tourism in Kuala Sepetang is great.

Most of the people who oppose the PSR project want a detailed and comprehensive study on sea sand mining to be conducted by universities which are independent of the developers.

As the sand from the seas off Perak will be mined for the PSR project, the people in the "Bantah Tambak" demonstration have urged the Perak Menteri Besar (MB), Ahmad Faizal Azumu, to heed the dangers of sand mining and its potential threat to the environment. They would like him to order more studies, and review its impact on the state.

They also fear that the loss of income for the fishermen, & the aqua- and mari-culture businesses, all of which brings in substantial revenue for the state, should be an important consideration for halting the sand mining.


Video: How sand mining impacts ecosystem
Video: How sand mining destroys one home to build another
Video: Impact of sand mining
Video: Fishermen protest against STP2 at sea
Persatuan-Persatuan Nelayan Negeri Perak dan Pulau Pinang
Penang Forum
SAM Penang Chapter

(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)

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