GEORGE TOWN: Jerejak Island can ill afford to remain in its current state of disrepair, as dereliction, forces of nature and human actions threaten to tear apart the historical island, an activist pointed out today.
Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) honorary secretary Ben Wismen said this was because many historical buildings, structures, graves and sites are slowly disappearing and falling apart due to no preservation, maintenance and management.
Wismen also said that storms, erosion and landslides have been recorded on the island, and some of these had affected the historical assets there.
“For example, the November storms had caused landslides on the island. If you are at the Queensbay Mall today, you can see two bald patches. That was from the storm. That landslide has even affected the graves and historical buildings.
“Aside from that, fig trees can also be seen growing on buildings and monuments, resulting in structural damage.
“There is also the issue of two 900mm water pipes which were built across a few camps 10 to 15 years ago to draw and supply water to the Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBA) water tank on the northern tip of the island. When that was built, a lot was cleared,” he said, adding that another human factor was vandalism.
Wismen was speaking during a public forum on “Jerejak Island: Voices from the Past, Choices for the Future” here today.
Also present were environmentalist and Penang Hills Watch co-founder Rexy Prakash, as well as environmentalist, historian and author Michael Gibby. The forum was moderated by historian Khoo Salma Nasution.
Rexy, in his earlier presentation, had pointed out different elements of the island, such as its meandering trails, graves, cemeteries and memorials which go back a century, as well as its natural green lung.
However, Rexy lamented that the island’s heritage, including a Catholic church that was built in 1896 as well as the graves, were decaying quickly as they were exposed to the elements and were also vandalised.
In moving forward, Wismen said what was needed was a call to preserve the heritage assets of the island, such as the church and the graves. He also stated the need for access to be restored to the island, which had been cut off following the closure of a resort two years ago.
“We also like to have dialogues with the developer. We cannot escape from the fact that the land has been transferred and is now private property.
“We need a dialogue, to discuss and see what are the right kinds of development (for the island). We certainly do not want 1,200 residential units, and certainly not a Disneyland.
“But first we need to talk to the developers, to get them to stand from our point of view, see Jerejak Island, acknowledge its history and then plan the development,” he said.
Proposed national heritage site
Other recommended medium term action plans, according to Wismen, include gazetting the Pulau Jerejak Forest Reserve, designating the island as a Penang State Park, as proposed in the Penang Structure Plan.
The long-term action plans, Wismen said, are to declare the island as a state heritage site, under the Penang State Heritage Enactment, to propose the island as a national heritage site, under the National Heritage Act; and to work towards a joint inscription of Jerejak Island and Sungai Buloh as world heritage sites, in recognition of the function of these sites as leper colonies for Malaysia.
Jerejak has been slated for development. In November 2016, it was reported that UDA Holdings Bhd entered into a joint venture agreement with Q Islands Development to redevelop the disused Jerejak Rainforest Resort and Spa and 32.37ha of land surrounding it into a mixed development.
It was reported a bridge linking Jerejak to Penang Island on the west, 1,200 residential units, a theme park, a marina, four and five-star hotels and a cycling track will be built there.
Currently, Jerejak consists of mostly dense jungle and hills. Of 362ha of the island, only 10% to 15% of it is flat land.
Jerejak was once known as “Malaysia’s Alcatraz”.
It was also once home to a leper colony. The island is hence, not very popular with tourists.
In 1868, Jerejak was the main leprosy sanatorium, one of the earliest in the country, built using funds collected by Chinese businessmen in Penang.
Five leprosy camps were built on various pieces of flat land on Jerejak Island.