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Villagers want help to protect mangrove swamps in Pitas

28th April, 2016

KOTA KINABALU: A group of villagers from Pitas has come forward to appeal to the tate government to immediately intervene to protect the last remaining 1,000 acres of mangrove swamp in their area.

The area comprises the rivers Gumpa, Lompaki, Pongandalan, Togonok, Datong, Ontoh and Eloi.

Speaking at a news conference held here yesterday, their spokesperson Mastupang Somoi claimed that they were recently approached by a group of people claiming to be officials from Environment Protection Department (EPD), or a private NGO or consultants, depending on whom they were interviewing, to inform them that there was to be an expansion of the existing prawn farm (of 2,300 acres) that involve the remaining 1,000 acres of mangrove area, which would be cleared for development in the next 3 to 5 weeks, whether or not they agreed.

“These mangroves are our life source, and we have always depended on it,” he said.

He claimed that ever since the implementation of the much-objected controversial prawn farm, a joint-venture project between a private firm and a State-owned agency, back in 2014, the local community there has now become poorer due to rapid depletion of the natural habitats for the marine resources there.

“Majority of us in this region are in the hardcore poverty brackets and rely heavily on the surrounding mangroves for our food supplies and livelihood.

“There has been a drastic drop in fish, clams, crabs and other protein sources for our families, due to the major clearance of mangrove habitat. We are not against development, but we need a balanced and sustainable development,” he said.

He further claimed that the development of the prawn ponds there has affected the rights of the indigenous communities, and that the remaining 1,000 acres is a sensitive area that houses traditional sacred sites and must be preserved.

“We will protect this remaining mangrove area, and if this area is destroyed, it would also mean the death of our traditions, and our source of income,” he said.

Hhe also expressed regret that the ongoing prawn farm project has not benefitted the local community.

“The company involved has repeatedly conducted their business without following the law and encroached into our NCR lands and state lands. We had to make many complaints against them, but they merely received a slap on their wrist,” he lamented.

Somoi said the six villagers that are being affected by the development project are Kg Telaga, Kg. Gumpa, Kg Ungkup, Kg. Boluuh Skim, Kg Datong, and Kg. Sg. Eloi which have an estimated population of 2,500 people. To better champion their plight, they have also formed an action committee called Gabungan 6 Kampung (G6). Also present yesterday were senior officials from Sabah Environment Protection Association (SEPA) like its Secretary, Julia Hwong, its past president Wong Tack and its legal adviser, Margaret Chin. – By Michael Teh

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