Wednesday, December 22, 2010

'Thoughtless' palm oil cluster project destroying mangrove forests

Thu, 23 Dec 2010 10:51

By Luke Rintod

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah government's POIC (Palm Oil Industry Cluster) project in Lahad Datu in the east coast of the state has come under blistering attack from an NGO for what it terms as 'a blatant disregard' for the environment and the eco-system in the area.

Sabah Environment Protection Association (Sepa) president, Wong Tack, said the billion-ringgit POIC is already destroying the eco-system of ancient mangrove forest areas in Lahad Datu that nature took millions of years to nurture.

"POIC is managed by dynamic and educated people, but in its push for the so-called cluster development of palm oil industry, POIC is degrading and destroying the eco-system.

"It is reducing the productivity of Sabah’s marine wealth, and hence affecting the livelihood of fishermen around the Darvel Bay area in Lahad Datu.

"They are all part and parcel of a highly productive eco-system that is a Priority Conservation Area within the one million sq km in the Sulu-Sulawesi areas.

"What alarms us greatly, and the aquaculture and tourism industries in Darvel Bay in particular, is that the three-phase development of POIC has the potential of eventually clearing 4,450 acres of prime mangrove forests in Lahad Datu," he told a press conference in Tanjung Aru here yesterday.

Wong said the first phase had already cleared 550 acres of mangroves while reclamation work of the second phase cleared another 600 acres.

"The third phase is due and may well clear a massive 3,300 acres of prime mangroves.

"Sepa believes there are vast tracts of lands in Sabah’s east coast which POIC could have used to develop, without hurting the seafood eco-system service of 4,000-plus acres of mangrove forests," he said.

Irreplaceable marine life

Studies have shown that tropical mangrove forest eco-systems are a vibrant environment which nurture and support immense varieties of sea life which inturn provide nutrients and foods for us.

Marine life are no different from human in one respect – they migrate to and congregate in places that teem with food.

"Mangrove forests function like a nutrient or ‘feed factory' for a huge range of commercial species of fish, prawns, and crabs via fallen leaves, branches and prop roots that attract and establish an intricate planktonic food web which feeds the juveniles of many of the species before they are strong enough to face the treacherous open sea, " he said.

Wong said there is a need for a review of the whole POIC project before it exacted an irreversible catastrophe on the eco-system in the east coast.

He said a recent survey by Sepa at the Phase 2 of POIC project found freshly reclaimed land that had buried hundreds of acres of mangroves without any appropriate environmental mitigation or protection.

The reclaimation had resulted in a free flow of mud and sediments straight into the pristine marine environment of Darvel Bay.

"Sepa didn’t find a single retention pond that should have been sectioned out appropriately to capture the erosion and sedimentary discharge to stop them running straight into the sea.

"Because of that, aquaculture farmers are angry as pollution if not prevented will eventually destroy not only fish farming and seaweed culture but also the beauty which will eventually harm the effort to promote eco-tourism development in the area," he said.

Lamenting further Wong added that the "60-metre of buffer zone" had also been stripped clean.

"What's the penalty for this? What's the action? Where is the relevance of EIA? Is EIA merely a useless paper work?" he asked.

He said when aquaculture farmers protested about the violations recently, POIC argued that it would replace the buried mangrove forest with a land elsewhere.

"But a destroyed eco-system is not replaceable by mere trees. It is like replacing a chopped head with a hand..." he argued.

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