PETALING JAYA: The Penang state government has been urged to shut down aquaculture farms in Balik Pulau and repossess mangrove forests which had been given to the Penang Regional Development Authority (Perda).
The environmental group Sahabat Alam Malaysia said shrimp farms in the area were a threat to the environment and to the livelihood of more than 1,000 coastal fishermen.
SAM president SM Mohamed Idris alleged that the environmental problem began more than 10 years ago after Perda obtained ownership of the mangroves at Lot 802, covering an area of 93 hectares or 230 acres, and leased the land for aquaculture.
He urged the state government to repossess the land and the area to be gazetted a permanent reserve forest, with rehabilitation of the mangroves and replanting with suitable species.
Idris said the problems had worsened after shrimp farmers expanded their project areas, destroying vast areas of mangrove forests and discharging poisonous waste into the waterways.
Idris said a SAM study had found that a change in land use, from mangrove forest to agricultural land, specifically for aquaculture, was the main cause of the problem.
He said the aquaculture farms had disregarded the impact on the surrounding environment.
“We urge the Penang government to take immediate measures to halt further development in the mangrove forests here and stop the operations of the shrimp farms immediately,” said Idris during a peaceful demonstration in the area in Penang today.
The protest was held by local residents and environmental activists.
A SAM survey found that the income of coastal fishermen at five jetties had been severely affected due to the destruction of mangroves and the shrimp culture projects.
The jetties affected are those in Kuala Sungai Pinang, Pantai Acheh, Kuala Jalan Baru, Kuala Sungai Burung and Pulau Betong.
Marine life such as fish, prawns, crabs, cockles and mussels had dwindled because of the destruction of mangroves and discharge of effluents from the shrimp ponds, he said.
The monthly income of the fishermen had dwindled to between RM400 and RM800 from the previous RM2,000 a month.
Idris said SAM regretted that no effective action had been taken despite the long-standing problem and many complaints.
The environmental health division of Penang Island City Council had investigated and confirmed that effluent discharge from the shrimp ponds had led to clogging and water retention.
But the division did not have jurisdiction to take enforcement action, he said.
Idris pointed out that Balik Pulau district houses one of the largest fishing villages in the state and was a main supplier of fish to consumers in Penang.
“We appeal to the state government to repossess the mangrove forests given to Perda and to gazette the mangroves as permanent reserve forest.