Penang South Reclamation area is ‘basically shallow muddy water’ – Really, Zairil?

Defending the indefensible for the sake of a mega-project that will destroy the marine environment along with its food security

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Precious food security: A fisherman at work in Teluk Kumbar

Shallow muddy water, my foot! 

Shallow muddy water will only have ikan sembilang (eel-tailed catfish), pedukang (sergeant major), ketuka (pale-edged stingray), ikan duri (forked-tail marine catfish), udang rawa and kerang (cockles) – and not ikan kembung (Indian mackerel), ikan bawal (pomfret), ikan tenggiri (Spanish mackerel) and udang besar (large prawns), which are found in abundance in the bay of Teluk Kumbar.

Do politicians have no conscience at all? This is the question I am asking myself after hearing what Penang state executive councillor for infrastructure and transport Zairil Khir Johari said about the state’s grand Penang South Reclamation project in a televised ‘debate’ with economist Lim Mah Hui of Penang Forum a couple of days ago.

Zairil said: “… let’s not kid ourselves, OK? This area which we have …ah … ah  identified as a reclamation area is not the Great Barrier Reef. There is no unique biodiversity. It is not a rich breeding ground for fishes. It is basically shallow, muddy water. That’s why it is the most suitable type for reclamation.”

I am totally flabbergasted by this statement. Did Zairil see the “shallow muddy water” with his own eyes? Has he ever gone to the fishing community areas in Batu Maung, Teluk Tempoyak, Permatang Damar Laut, Permatang Tepi Laut, Sungai Batu and Gertak Sanggul, let alone taken a ride on a fishing boat in the bay of Teluk Kumbar, to see the “muddy waters”?

Zairil cannot be so ignorant or naive about what experts have said about the fisheries in the bay of Teluk Kumbar. For his benefit, I reproduce here excerpts from two government agencies that are experts in the subject:

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The Penang state fisheries director wrote, in a letter dated 26 January 2021, to the Malaysian Fisheries Development Board (LKIM) for Penang state:

Secara dasarnya Jabatan Perikanan Malaysia TIDAK MENYOKONG dengan cadangan tersebut kerana projek tersebut akan membawa kemusnahan kekal kepada ekosistem perikanan seluas 4,500 ekar dan memberikan impak negatif yang sangat besar kepada sumber perikanan, sosioekonomi nelayan dan jaminan bekalan makanan (food security).

The director general of environment wrote, in a letter dated 25 June 2019, to the Penang state secretary:

Pihak Jabatan ini ingin menarik perhatian pihak Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang bahawa pembangunan projek akan menyebabkan kemusnahan kekal dan residual impact ke atas ekosistem dataran lumpur (mudflat), fishing ground, kawasan pendaratan penyu, dan sebahagian terumbu karang di Pulau Rimau yang merupakan ekosistem penting kepada sumber perikanan. Kemusnahan kekal ini akan memberi impak negatif yang signifikan kepada sumber perikanan, nelayan dan jaminan sumber bekalan makanan negara.

Zairal should not take everyone to be a fool whom he can try to win support from. Even if 90% of the voters in Penang “support” the grand project, their support means nothing in the face of the expert findings of the two most relevant departments concerned, and the views and findings of other academics and experts.

Zairil needs to bertaubat (repent). His position as state executive councillor does not automatically make him an infallible person or an expert in fisheries. He cannot simply run down the experts’ conclusions about the devastating effects of the reclamation project.

Zairil also claimed the area is “not a rich breeding ground for fishes”.

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Then why is the place so rich in fish? The fishermen are not taking boatloads of fish food to throw in the sea to attract the fish to the area before they cast their nets. The fish are there on their own, and why would they be there in large numbers if there was no food there for them? Where does their food come from, if not the sea grass meadows in the area?

Here is a simple analogy: if there is a swarm of flies sitting on a plate, would they be there if there was no food for them on the plate? Similarly, if the bay of Teluk Kumbar was “basically shallow muddy water”, there might be some fish that thrives in shallow muddy water and not marine fish like ikan kembung, ikan bawal, ikan tenggiri and udang.

Shame on Zairil for stooping so low to defend the indefensible for the sake of his political party’s project that will destroy the marine environment along with its food security.  

He should stop kidding himself and ‘turun padang’ to see the “shallow muddy water” before making such misleading statements.

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Khoo Soo Hay
Khoo Soo Hay
27 Jun 2021 10.06am

You guys have never done any fishing, by hook. line and sinker or by net in these waters, as I used to in my young school days, so please shut up, and let the State do what is necessary for our island.