40,000ha of mangrove forest in Kerian threatened by land clearing

One of Malaysia’s biggest mangrove ecosystems is under threat as land clearing activities have begun at a patch near Kampung Kuala Gula.

At over 40,000ha, the Matang mangrove forest in Perak’s Kerian district is the largest mangrove ecosystem in the peninsula, but it was subject to a series of land clearing activities last week.

Friends of Mangroves (FoM) chairman Zakaria Mohamed said about 6ha of mangroves had been cleared to pave way for the construction of a shrimp farm located about 30km from here.

The area is near the popular Kuala Gula bird sanctuary, where an estimated 200,000 birds stop over during the migration season between August and April every year.

“What upsets us the most is seeing our efforts in rehabilitating the mangrove swamps go down the drain,” Zakaria said.

Since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, a heightened sense of awareness about the importance of mangroves has been ingrained in the locals, especially in the Kerian area, which was one of the coastal areas in Perak to be hit.

Villagers from Kampung Kuala Gula are concerned that the removal of the plot of mangroves from a swamp by the name of Teluk Rubiah here will lead to even more land clearing.

“We have planted countless mangrove trees in the last seven years with the support of government agencies and other NGOs. But now, we do not know how much longer we can keep up with our endeavours,” said Zakaria.

The 500ha Teluk Rubiah mangroves – not to be confused with a bay with the same name near Sitiawan, also in Perak – are 6km away from the village.

Besides migratory bird watching, the Kuala Gula area is well known for ecotourism, including village homestays, boat rides to observe mangroves, fireflies, cage culture farms, traditional fishermen at work, cockle culture and shrimp paste processing factories.

Zakaria said ecotourism here would probably suffer a setback as a result of reduced mangrove forest cover, as migratory birds would seek other places for shelter.

Malaysian Nature Society conservation head Balu Perumal said the locals were upset and at the same time anxious about the land clearing activities, with FoM having reported the matter to the district office.

“The Forestry Department and the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry have also been notified about the matter,” said Balu, adding that locals had helped to plant about 200,000 mangrove trees there.

“If there is any other swamp land in Teluk Rubiah that has fallen into private hands, we hope the authorities can reacquire it and convert it into a community park,” he said.

A spokesman for a shrimp farm confirmed that the land was privately owned but declined to elaborate further, while the Kerian Land and District Office could not be reached for comment.

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