Former exco clueless over golf project on Ramsar-listed Johor mangrove land

Activists are up in arms over the opening of a golf course and hotel in what they claim is the Sungai Pulai mangrove reserve in Johor. (Sungai Pulai Wellness Resort Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: A former Johor state executive councillor has denied knowledge of de-gazettement of part of the Sungai Pulai mangrove reserve and protected wetlands to make way for a golf course and hotel project undertaken by a foreign company.

Ayub Rahmat, who was the Johor state health, environment, education and information committee chairman under the Barisan Nasional administration, said he was also not aware of the project’s existence.

“During my time as state exco for the environment, we did not receive any papers on this or discuss the matter.

“We also did not hear any talk about the so-called de-gazettement there,” the former Kemelah assemblyman from Umno said.

Activists recently raised the alarm over the opening of the golf course and hotel project, which they claim is within the Sungai Pulai mangrove reserve in Gelang Patah, a famous riverine mangrove system.

Sources close to the issue told FMT that the project, which opened its doors to the public late last year and reportedly cost RM2 billion, encroached on the Sungai Pulai Ramsar site as well.

The company involved in the project has repeatedly turned down FMT’s requests for an interview.

Meanwhile, Ayub said the only Sungai Pulai-related project he was aware of previously is the RM650 million bridge project connecting Tanjong Pelepas and Tanjong Bin, in Serkat, Pontian. The project would span across Sungai Pulai, which was funded by Putrajaya and due for completion next year.

Ayub instead passed the buck to the Johor Land and Mines Office and the Johor Forestry Department.

The Land and Mines Office had previously told FMT that this issue was not under their purview and came under the Forestry Department.

FMT has reached out to the Johor Forestry Department, Johor Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman Sahruddin Jamal, as well as Ramsar, a global convention signed by most United Nation member-states on the protection of wetlands.

In January 2003, Sungai Pulai was listed as a “wetland of international importance” under the Ramsar Convention 1971.

It joins Pulau Kukup and five other wetlands as being the country’s only Ramsar sites.

The issue comes on the heels of the Pulau Kukup controversy, which upset environmentalists and politicians over concerns of potential commercial development there following the island’s de-gazettement as a national park.

The Sungai Pulai area, with its mangrove reserve in yellow and the Sungai Pulai Ramsar site in blue. The golf course and hotel are indicated by the pin and the star. (Google Earth pic)

Like Pulau Kukup, Sungai Pulai’s mangroves are protected as a forest reserve under the National Forestry Act 1984 and managed as sustainable use forestry under the Johor Forestry Department.

The 9,216ha of Sungai Pulai mangroves bring socioeconomic balance to the nearby fishing communities and aid in shoreline protection and flood prevention, similar to that of nearby Pulau Kukup.

A source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, claimed that maps of Sungai Pulai showed that part of its land had been de-gazetted to make way for the development of the project.

“If it has not been de-gazetted, then something is very wrong because you cannot have a golf course in a forest reserve,” he told FMT, adding that the state government should clarify if the land has been de-gazetted.

A comparison of Sungai Pulai on the Johor National Parks’ website and on Google Earth, which was last updated on Oct 2, 2018, show that the golf course and hotel are located within the Ramsar site.

Meanwhile, the Johor Bahru and Kulai 2025 local district plan states that the part of Sungai Pulai on which the project is on is still a forest reserve, which indicates that no development can take place there.

It also does not mention the foreign company in question under its list of tourism-related companies in the region.

A local district plan, under the purview of the local council, is a detailed interpretation of a state structural plan.

Sungai Pulai is under the Iskandar Puteri City Council, which has also been reached for comment.