Impacts of coastal land reclamation on the fisheries of Mukim Lekir, Malaysia
In 1997, land reclamation works began in the coastal area of Mukim Lekir. Ultimately, an area of 8,094 ha was planned to be reclaimed along Lekir's coastline, but to date; only Phase 1 of the project has been completed. The Phase 1 project of 405 ha, created a man-made island for the location of a 2,100MW, coal-fired power plant; a first of its kind in Malaysia. Although the reclaimed land was only 5 % of the total intended area, its impacts on the livelihoods of the coastal communities, especially fishers, were serious and nearby mangroves were degraded. The effect of this intervention was observed to be long-term, contrary to the claims made by the project proponents. Fishers and other coastal inhabitants incurred monetary losses, which were neglected by the project proponents, who also failed over the issue of compensation. This study attempts to establish evidence that the project caused hardship to coastal population, especially fishers who depended on fishery resources that were found to decline after the commencement of the project. It began by assessing the status of fish stock, analysing its catch-rates trend and comparing them with resource status before the project. A socio-economic survey by face-to-face questionnaires interview was carried out on the population to obtain information on how the project had affected their livelihoods in terms of incomes, job opportunity, fishing activities, pollution, etc. The research design intended to prove that environmental degradation was caused by the project by comparing the status of resources before and after the intervention. On the issue of compensation, losses were valued in monetary terms, so that it was easily understood and appreciated. The purpose of valuing damages was to allow affected persons to claim compensation in monetary terms. This study emphasized losses through mangrove degradation and losses as result of fishery resources declining. In addition, losses incurred by cockle farmers and the government were also gauged. For mangrove degradation, a survey using the Contingent Valuation Method was carried out to estimate people's willingness to pay (WTP) on a hypothetical project aiming to protect the mangroves. The amount they were WTP was the benefit loss of not being able to use the mangroves. Other losses valuation was straightforward since it involved marketable or tangible goods. The standing of fishers and other affected communities claiming compensation in the court of laws was discussed. Fish stock assessment done in 2002 and 2003 in the Lekir waters indicated that the resource showed a declining trend since 1996. Commercial fish declined at a greater rate in sub-area A, which was closer to the impacted area, than in sub-area B; located further away. Subarea A was also found to loose its potential as breeding and nursery grounds, since fewer juveniles and fingerlings were caught compared with the 1996 survey. The decline in the fisheries indicative from the surveys was verified by fishers who complained of reduced catches and incomes. In the socio-economic survey, fishers were found not to benefit from the development since the project did not provide them with employment opportunity or generate other kinds of income-induced opportunity. The degradation ofthe mangroves and the fishery were proven to be caused by the present of the project since the control areas, in the absence of perturbation did not show similar characteristic as the impacted areas. The benefit loss of mangrove use was estimated at RM 81,959/year whereas other society losses were RM 118,333,321 in the six years since the perturbation. If fishers were to claim compensation, they have to prove that their losses were above and over the general public and preferably under the rule of Rylands V Fletcher. Other segments of the society may need government intervention since they were claiming pure economic loss, which is unrecoverable in the Common Laws. This study does not advocate monetary compensation to each affected individual but prefers long-term aid to regenerate rural livelihoods. Economic projects are proposed involving active participation of the community. Further researches are also suggested to improve data collection, developing comprehensive stock assessment and improving EIA procedures.