SAM Seminar on Coastal Development: Impacts to the Environment & Communities

Organised by Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)

17- 18 December 2013, Cititel Express Hotel, Kuala Lumpur

Welcome remarks by Mr. Mohideen Abdul Kader,

Council Member of Sahabat Alam Malaysia

Representing President of Sahabat Alam Malaysia

 Distinguished participants,

Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the President of Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Tuan S.M. Mohamed Idris, it is my great pleasure to welcome you all to SAM’s seminar on “Coastal Development: Impacts to the Environment & Communities”. To all speakers and community representatives, I would like to express my warm welcome and appreciation to you for sharing your experiences with all of us.

Malaysia has a total land area of 329,750 km2. The Malaysian coastline is rich with coastal resources and has abundance of natural bio diversity.  The length of shoreline in Peninsular Malaysia is 2,031 km, Sarawak 1,035 km and Sabah 1,743 km. The coastal areas also support about 70% of the total population.

The coastal area is the center of socio-economic activities. In Peninsular Malaysia, projects such as the Tanjung Bin Power Plant in Johor, reclamation in Pantai Kelebang, Malacca, and reclamation in Tanjung Tokong and Gelugor in Penang are among coastal development projects that have brought about negative impacts to the environment and livelihood of local communities.

New and proposed projects such as RAPID  (Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development) in Pengerang, Johor, LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) plant, iron and steel mill in Tanjung Hantu, Segari, Perak; ZIPY (Zon Industri Petroleum Yan) in Kedah are huge projects in the coastal zone that have alarmed environmental NGOs, environmentalists and local communities.  In addition, SAM receives many complaints regarding the effects or consequences of coastal development especially from inshore fishermen and those who live near the shore.

There is an urgent need to control development in the coastal zone to ensure that coastal communities’ life and livelihood are not further threatened.  Thus, the objective of this seminar is:

1. To gather information on Malaysia’s policy on coastal zone management, protection and development.

2. To identify the impact of development in coastal zones.

3. To give an opportunity to coastal communities affected by coastal zone development to raise their concerns.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Malaysia’s Coastal Zone National Physical Plan (Rancangan Fizikal Zon Persisiran Pantai Negara, 2012) recognises that the coastal zone is under intense pressure of development that can threaten the coastal ecosystem.  The report also states that studies have shown that several areas are vulnerable to sea level rise as a result of climate change, namely the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia’s east coast and low-lying settlements in the states of Sabah and Sarawak.

For vulnerable groups like coastal fisher communities even minor changes in the climate could have disastrous impacts on their livelihoods. The communities also face loss of income due to depleting fish stocks and declining area of mangrove forests.

The coastal area is a sensitive and dynamic environment. The slightest intervention can have severe consequences.  Besides natural causes, manmade interventions tend to interrupt coastal processes, causing undesirable effects such as erosion and accretion.

The impact on coastal zone is not only a result of coastal development but also development carried out in the hinterland. Apart from degradation of water quality, erosion is a major problem on the shoreline. About 30% or 1,400 km out of the total 4,809 km of coast in Malaysia is facing erosion.

Coastal erosion induced by human activities has probably surpassed coastal erosion driven by natural factors. Adverse impacts of coastal erosion include destruction of assets located on retreating coastlines, undermining of coastal structures, loss of land of economic and ecological values and loss of habitats.

The importance of mangroves to the ecosystem and commercial fisheries cannot be ignored. Besides their coastal protection attributes, mangroves are important breeding, nursing grounds and habitat for species such as fish, mussels, oysters, shrimps, and crabs.   Thus coastal fisher communities living near the mangrove forests have been dependent on these forests for their livelihood.

Despite this, mangroves are declining in area worldwide. A Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 2007) study reports that human pressure on coastal ecosystems for land for aquaculture, agriculture, infrastructure and tourism are major causes of the decrease. Malaysia had lost about 110 000 ha of mangroves from 1980 to 2005. During the first decade (1980–1990), mangrove losses were primarily due to conversion of land for agriculture, shrimp ponds or urban development (FAO 2007).

Fishers experience and scientific studies point out that when mangrove forests are destroyed, it subsequently leads to decline in local fish catches. Assessments of the links between mangrove forests and the fishery sector suggest that for every hectare of mangrove forests cleared, nearby coastal fisheries lose some 480 kg of fish per year.

In this seminar, coastal communities would share their thoughts, experiences and expectations. We need to find a concrete solution in protecting our coastal zone for our future benefit and livelihood.  This is urgent because global climate change and accelerated sea level rise would bring about shoreline erosion, salt water intrusion, inundation of wetlands and estuaries, and threats to cultural and historic resources as well as infrastructure.

The effects of the changing climate have been observed already in terms of the increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as storms and floods thereby impacting key socio-economic sectors.  The recent floods in Kuantan and other east coast states and the devastating effect of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Philippines should serve as a lesson that we are vulnerable and must be prepared to face these disasters.

We hope that the presentation by representatives of the government will touch on how the government is protecting our coastal zone and the coastal communities.  What are the present institutional arrangements in light of competing demands, and the urgent need to protect and to give high priority to natural systems in the coastal zone.

What do we want to achieve from this seminar? Our vision is for a healthy and sustainable development of coastal areas which emphasises environmental conservation, natural resource protection, social well-being and sustainable livelihood for coastal communities.

I hope this seminar will be a starting point for continued discussion on this issue.

Thank you.