Tioman marina project: To be or not to be?

By Dato’ Dr Salleh Mohd Nor

The Malaysian Nature Society is alarmed by the recent news reports of proposed activities in Pulau Tioman and it’s surrounding waters. Not only are we alarmed, but also annoyed at such preposterous schemes that threaten our natural heritage.

Pulau Tioman is a natural wonderland and one of the ten topmost beautiful islands in the world. It’s coral reefs and marine biodiversity is the reason for the strong tourism industry. It is questionable why Tioman needs a new cargo jetty when the existing jetty about 20 metres away is perfectly functional for accessibility to the island. How does the project justify the extensive damage to the coral reef, a whole thriving, living ecosystem, as no sufficient mitigation measure can revert the impacts? The proposed relocation of some of the coral inhabitants like the giant clams will probably result in the death of the clams. Both ways, the coral biodiversity will suffer.

However, if the current projects are given permission to proceed, the marine park famed for its aquatic beauty will be devastated. The policies involved in marine parks are presently very ambiguous. The Fisheries Act 1985 defines the objectives of establishment of marine parks and contradictory activities within these parks, meaning the waters and not the island. Any contradictory activities without prior written approval from the Fisheries Director General is an offence and liable for penalty. In the case  of Tioman, the Marine Parks Department is obviously against the project, yet are impotent to act as it is considered a land development and outside their jurisdiction.

The other relevant policy is the Environmental Quality Act 1974. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) lists development of tourist or recreational facilities on islands in surrounding waters that are gazetted as national marine parks as prescribed activity 17(d). The EIA Guidelines defines this to mean only activities on the land area are subjected to an EIA, whereas any individual project solely on the water does not require an EIA. Why do the segregation exist where the Marine Parks protect the waters and EIA only for the land? These ambiguous processes defeat the whole concept of an ecosystem approach, as impacts do not recognize jurisdictional boundaries and are all encompassing.

There is a need for an immediate policy change, as precedence have been set and further delay will be to the detriment of all our marine islands as in the case of Pulau Tioman and to a greater extent, Redang. MNS has always proposed that marine parks management must be inclusive of both land and sea. This is now actually feasible with the formation of the new Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. The Environmental Quality Act 1974 needs to be amended to include the land, waters and relevant habitats in the EIA assessments, as well as to include development of tourist and recreational facilities in marine parks as part of the list of activities requiring Detailed EIA. A moratorium on all development activities should be enforced on the marine park as well, until further carrying capacity studies can be done on the island.

Most importantly, the local community must be consulted in all instances. They are the people living there and the best authority on the needs of the island and its inhabitants. The Mentri Besar, Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob was quoted as saying that it was up to the people to decide if they wanted development for the island or to leave it as it was. The present proposal for the airport and marina was without consultation and feedback from the locals and these projects are neither beneficial nor needed by the local communities as their environment and livelihoods are being affected. It is our fervent hope that authorities will listen to the people and heed their concerns.