What the ‘Bantah Tambak’ protest is really about

The protest outside Parliament on July 11 by fishermen and their supporters was not a demand for compensation or a stand against development.

It was not about the progress of Perak versus that of Penang. It was about protecting the rights of fishermen in both states. It was also about safeguarding the environment and protecting the quality of our waters.

When the Penang government builds its three artificial islands in the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project, the island will see the addition of some 4,500 hectares of land. However, the livelihood of its fishermen will also be threatened. Perak, too, could do without the environmental destruction predicted due to sand mining in the state.

Sand mining has long been recognised as an international problem. Last October, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad ordered the government to ban all sand exports to Singapore. It was a move to stop the smuggling of sand and curb the involvement of corrupt government officials.

Since gaining its independence in 1965, Singapore has seen its land mass expand by a quarter. While some may be upset with Singapore’s demand for sand, the people of Perak are angry that the PSR project could damage their environment.

Many who oppose the PSR project and the sand mining claim that research into the matters has not been fully investigated. They claim that the livelihoods of some 6,000 fishermen from Perak and another 1,800 from Teluk Kumbar and Teluk Bahang in Penang will be at risk.

Not many realise that taking sand from one area and dumping it in another can pose a threat to the environment. But sand mining has the potential to pollute the environment and destroy ecosystems.

Beach erosion will damage infrastructure such as roads, bridges and buildings. It will uproot the trees which line beaches.

Removing the seabed of sand will expose rocks which could damage fishermen’s nets and boats. Sand mining and sand dumping will muddy waters, affecting the habitats of shrimp, crabs, shellfish, fish and coral reefs. People who are heavily invested in aquaculture and mariculture projects are also worried.

The destruction of mangrove swamps may also threaten the popular bird sanctuary at Kuala Gula in Matang.

More detailed and comprehensive studies on the PSR project and sea sand mining should be conducted by parties that are independent of developers.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.