Pulau Jerejak, a beautiful tropical island with lush virgin jungles in Penang, is a nature lover’s dream come true. Yet many shun the island. A recent e-poll on the State Tourism Action Council website revealed that visitors wanted Pulau Jerejak to be turned into a casino and entertainment centre while environmentalists want its pristine state left untouched. CHOONG KWEE KIM and SUSAN LOONE went on a search of the island’s past, hoping it would explain the present and reveal its direction for the future.
In a major makeover planned for Pulau Jerejak, the Penang state government has decided to earmark a large piece of the 362ha island as a forest reserve.
State Tourism Development and Environment Committee chairman Teng Chang Yeow said a proposal to gazette about 71% of the land or 259ha as forest reserve was made by the state forestry department.
“The approval process has begun and should be completed in the first quarter of next year. There will be no development for that land except for eco-tourism projects.”
This means only 77ha of land is left for commercial use, of which 24ha has been alienated to Tropical Island Resort for future projects. The Jerejak Spa and Resort and a shipyard occupies 26ha.
Teng said the state government would promote only environmentally friendly activities on the island.
“This includes building and maintaining walking trails and boardwalks in the forest,” said Teng.
Wetlands International (Malaysia) director Dr Sundari Ramakrishnan lauded the move to set aside a major tract as a forest reserve.
“If it’s a safari or zoo, it may not be kept well. So, it is better to leave it as is,” she added.
Pantai Jerejak state assemblyman Wong Mun Hoe would prefer to have Pulau Jerejak developed into a fantasy island, complete with hotel and resort, theme parks, marina and a water sport centre.
Penang Heritage Trust chairman Dr Choong Sim Poey said the state could undertake an eco-tourism project with minimum physical development.
Choong said the history of the island’s leper colony, tuberculosis and quarantine centres and later prison cells and correctional centre, should be preserved as tourist attractions.
He said some tourists might shy away from such areas due to their less-than-savoury history.
“But there are tourists who are interested in history and heritage. So, it is always better for the state to think of the kind of development the island can sustain before deciding on anything,” he added.
Tour operators feel such places are a big no-no for tourists, especially those from East Asia.
The Malaysian Nature Society (Penang Branch) would like to see the island go back to the community such as fishermen who have been deprived of a stable income.
“Turning the island into a commercial area would not be a good idea,” state MNS vice-chairman Tajul Arosh said.
“We have seen the damage done to Pulau Redang and Pulau Langkawi due to over-commercialisation. The same may happen to Pulau Jerejak.”
Currently, a reservoir is being built by Perbadanan Bekalan Air Holdings Bhd. Its 2004 report stated that the reservoir, to be completed next year, will increase its treated water storage capacity to 90 million litres.