Mangroves are Uprooted in Penang
The loss of a mangrove forest can have devastating environmental consequences. Photo Credit: Human Wrongs Watch
The mangrove trees in Bagan Jermal were in the way so they had to go. To make way for a coastal reclamation project in Penang, the trees were uprooted from their ancestral swamp and transplanted in Sungai Acheh on the mainland.
All that happened with the approval of the state’s Environment Department (DOE). “The mangrove trees were replanted at an appropriate habitat based on recommendations from the DOE,” explained state executive councilor Phee Boon Poh, after coming in for criticism from the civil society group the Consumer Association of Penang (CAP).
So all is well then? Hardly.
Mohamed Idris, a leading local environmentalist who is president of CAP, has lamented the destruction of the mangrove forest in Bagan Jermal, calling mangroves “national treasures.” The trees, he elucidated, serve an invaluable role in protecting shores from storms and tidal waves, in addition to alleviating the effects of floods.
You can even put a price tag on how valuable they are as natural buffers: $300,000 (Rm1,34 million) on each kilometer of coastline. That’s how much it costs to replace mangroves with rock walls that would serve the same function, according to a study conducted years ago.
“Mangrove forests in this area not only protect the coastal areas from natural hazards such as storms, tidal waves and tsunami but mangroves are also a breeding ground for marine life that are source of income for the fisher communities and their future generation and also food supply for the people,” the environmentalist noted.
Mangrove trees, he pointed out, also function as so-called carbon sinks by storing large amounts of carbon, whereby they contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change.
And their value does not end there. Mangrove forests are hotbeds of biodiversity that are home to a large variety of marine species. As a result, they serve as a constant source of livelihood for local fisher folk. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Idris noted, mangrove forests in Peninsular Malaysia supported a fishery industry worth US$250,000 per square kilometer each year.
“Obviously Phee did not know this, and CAP is upset that a state Exco [executive councilor] in charge of environment and welfare does not understand the holistic functions of mangroves and benefits to the environment and economy,” the conservationist stressed. “Phee should check out what has happened to the environment, fish stock and livelihood of coastal fishers in Balik Pulau and Seberang Perai Selatan as a result of mangrove destruction in these areas,” he advised.