The fate of more than 5,000 fisherfolk in Penang is in critical condition following ongoing and proposed reclamation projects and the increasingly serious marine pollution problem in the state.
Although the problems pervaded by pollution and coastal development have long plagued fisherfolk’s livelihood but they have yet to receive proper attention either from the state government or the relevant departments and agencies.
Commenting on the issue of pollution reported in The Star of 28 May 2019, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) is very concerned because Penang’s waters are not only threatened by pollution of solid waste, factory waste, sewage, mud and pig waste but also chemicals that are poisoning and killing marine life as well as potentially affecting public health.
According to the analysis of water samples from Teluk Bahang waters two weeks ago by the Department of Chemistry, University Sains Malaysia (USM), the nickel content was 944% more than the standard 0.005 parts per million (ppm) in typical seawater. Lead and cadmium contents were also reported high at 0.804 ppm and 0.065 ppm respectively.
The public and fisherfolk whom SAM met were surprised by the report on the heavy metal pollution in the waters off Teluk Bahang and hoped that immediate action would be taken by the government to control the pollution from spreading and causing further impacts to the marine environment, fisherfolk’s livelihood and public health. Consumers have also contacted SAM to find out whether it is safe to eat fish caught in this area.
SAM’ survey over the past 10 years found that fish, shrimp, shellfish, cockles and crabs which are the main catch of coastal fishers in the state have dwindled and are threatened with extinction. The fishers income has also declined between 50% to 70%. Waters in five districts in the state i.e.Southwest, Northeast, Seberang Perai Utara (SPU), Seberang Perai Tengah (SPT) and Seberang Perai Selatan (SPS) are exposed to pollution and various development projects including reclamation.
SAM is disappointed that the relevant departments and agencies had not disclosed the level of marine pollution in Penang’s waters. Hence the public’s query of what the authorities have been doing is warranted.
The Department of Environment (DOE) has been monitoring marine water quality since 1978 in Peninsular Malaysia with the objectives to establish the marine water quality status and to determine the pollution level from land-based and the sea-based sources. We wonder why the DOE did not disclose this issue of heavy metal pollution much earlier whereas the analysis of marine water quality has surely been conducted.
SAM believes that if the state government, departments and agencies involved are lackadaisical over environmental issues and its effects on the livelihoods of coastal fishers in the state, not only marine life will be extinct but even fishers and their generation will gradually vanish in the future.
Thus, SAM urges the Penang state government to address the pollution problem promptly by identifying the sources of pollution and cancelling the sea reclamation project proposal that would result in total loss of fishing grounds and threaten fisherfolk’s livelihoods.