Monday, March 31, 2008

The Environment - Sungai Pulai

This article was written to comment on the refusal of the Department of Environment (DOE), Malaysia to request a couple of large industries in Sg. Pulai estuary to carry out a detailed EIA (DEIA) instead of just preliminary EIA (PEIA) of the impacts of the projects on the environment.


Sungai Pulai is an important, estuarine river in Johor. The term “estuarine” river is used because of the relatively very little freshwater inflows. The freshwater inflows are mostly from Sg. Pulai itself, which begins from Gunung Pulai and flows through Kangkar Pulai. Other small, freshwater streams include Sg. Gelang Patah and Sg. Ulu Choh. Most freshwater from Gunung Pulai is also diverted via reservoirs and large diameter pipes to Singapore.

Due to the estuarine conditions, the water quality is basically influenced by the tidal flows and ebbs from the Selat Tebrau.

Ecological and Socio Economic Importance

Sungai Pulai is the largest mangrove system in Johor State. With its associated seagrass beds, intertidal mudflats and inland freshwater riverine forests (G. Pulai), the site represents one of the best examples of a lowland tropical river basin, supporting a rich biodiversity dependent on mangroves. Sg. Pulai estuary is designated as Ramsar site no. 1288.

There are also other seagrass areas outside the Ramsar site including the Tanjung Adang sites and especially the Pulau Merambong seagrass site, which is the largest seagrass area in Peninsular Malaysia at 36 hectares. These seagrass sites support a unique ecosystem that include seahorses and dugong (sea cow), a relative of the Florida manatee.

The mangroves are also important as the breeding grounds of fishes. The destruction of the mangroves as well as the deterioration of the water quality of the Sg. Pulai estuary would directly affect the fish catches of the fishermen in the area especially the coastal fishermen.

Several zones near the Gelang Patah area are also designated as the aquaculture zones, which mostly use the cage culture and the pond culture methods. The deterioration of the water quality in the Sg. Pulai estuary would also affect the aquaculture industry directly.

Increased sea traffic also increased the wave action in the Sg. Pulai estuary and in the Selat Tebrau. Effect of increased erosion can be seen at Tanjung Piai National Park.

Large Development in the Sg. Pulai Watershed

The two major developments that were already completed are the Port of Tanjung Pelepas and the coal-powered 1200 MW power plant at Tanjung Bin, which is operated by Malakoff.

Two new proposed large developments include the Asia Petroleum Hub (APH), which will construct a man-made island in the estuary, and Seaport Worldwide Sdn. Bhd. proposed 2,255 acres of Petrochemical and Maritime Industries next to the Tg. Bin Power Plant.
The later project has submitted a Comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment report to the DOE while APH just submitted a preliminary EIA (PEIA) although the launch has already being officiated by the Prime Minister. Both CEIA and PEIA need only the DOE, Johor to approve with comments from the various relevant agencies in the state.

Course of Actions Needed to Protect Sg. Pulai

The EIA reports (both PEIA and CEIA) were only reported to the DOE, Johor with the assistance of both Federal and State Agencies such as DID, Fisheries Dept., Forestry Dept etc. but without any inputs from the expert panel members such as in a Detailed EIA (DEIA) reporting process, which is controlled by the DOE HQ. There are also no provisions for the comments from the public, whereby the DEIA reports are publicly displayed in the state libraries and DOE offices for two weeks. The display of the DEIA reports in those said places are announced in the newspapers, usually Utusan Malaysia and New Straits Times (NST).

The expert panel members are experts in the various disciplines of science and engineering related to the environment and independently appointed by the DOE HQ from the various organizations such as the public and private universities, the government agencies and even independent consultants. At least one NGO panel member would be also appointed such as from FOMCA, WWF, MNS etc. The DEIA process is therefore a more comprehensive process whereby all angles and problems are looked into as the impacts from such large projects would be large and long-termed.

The consultants for the newly proposed projects in the Sg. Pulai watershed also used very minute technical discrepancies to allow them to submit a PEIA or CEIA. For example, only reclamation of an area facing the sea (coast) needs a DEIA but not for an area in a RIVER, although Sg. Pulai estuary is more like a BAY than a river! The area of reclamation needs to be 50 hectares or larger too.

In the case of the proposed Seaport Petrochemical and Maritime Industries, the area would be taking in various kinds of heavy industries that would all need EIA reports. So, it is better to go ahead with a DEIA process to begin with.

Cumulative Impacts of All Projects to Sg. Pulai

Detailed EIA (EIA) reports are necessary as the impacts from the various industries would be accumulative i.e. additive or even worse negatively synergistic. Although each project indicates there would not be any negative impacts to Sg. Pulai, but in the long run when all the projects became reality, the impacts would be cumulative and cause great harm to the ecosystem.

Therefore, the process needed for the proposed Iskandar Development Region (IDR) within and without Sg. Pulai watershed would be a macro detailed EIA (macro DEIA), whereby ALL the impacts from the proposed industries and population growth would be considered at the same time. Each individual projects still have to carry out the DEIA if necessary. Only then the ecosystems within the Sg. Pulai region as well as IDR would be protected for the future generations.

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Gunung Ledang, 21 February 2010

Gunung Ledang, 21 February 2010
On the Peak of Gunung Ledang after the MNSJ Strategic Planning

Malaysian Nature Society, Johor Branch


I am the present Chairman of the Malaysian Nature Society, Johor Branch (MNSJ) (2010-11) and was duly elected as the President of the Malaysian Nature Society at the 63rd AGM at Taman Rimba Lagenda Ledang, Tangkak on 25th Sept. 2010. It is MNSJ's standing policy to engage directly with the relevant Federal and State agencies/departments on issues related to Nature and the Environment. This non-hostile approach is more effective than the hostile "in your face" attitude but we would have our say if necessary.


About Me

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Skudai, Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
I am an academician in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia situated in the southern state of Johor, Peninsular Malaysia. My fields of expertise are watershed management, water quality and water quality modeling. I did my B. Sc. and M. Sc. at the University of Iowa (1978 - 83) and worked for the Department of Environment (DOE) until 1990, when I joined UTM and later did my PhD in Watershed Science at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado. I was the Chairman of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Johor from 2006 - 2011. I was the President of the MNS from 2010 to 2014.