PETALING JAYA: Rather than building an airport in Tioman that can cause damage to the island's fragile ecosystem, an airport should be built in Mersing instead, says coral reef monitoring group Reef Check Malaysia.
Reef Check Malaysia general manager Julian Hyde said that Tioman is "already suffering" from recent developments, leading to water shortages and damage to coral reefs.
"The (Tioman) airport would have inevitably meant further development of resorts and infrastructure, which could only cause additional damage to the islands' fragile ecosystems, both on land and underwater," he said.
"We hope the Government will conduct a detailed study of the islands' capacity for further development," said Hyde.
If there is a need to develop transport infrastructure on the East coast, Hyde suggested that an airport be built near Mersing instead, which is the main departure point to Tioman and nearby islands.
"Such a development would serve these islands, too, potentially creating far greater benefits for less impact," he said.
Reef Check Malaysia's statement comes after Berjaya Group executive chairman Vincent Tan announced the group would submit a proposal to the government to build an airport in Tioman to boost tourism.
Tan said the group would finance the construction cost of the proposed airport.
However, Bernama reported that Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) managing director Badlisham Ghazali said that there were environmental concerns regarding the building of a new airport on the island.
He said the new airport may entail lengthening the current abandoned airport runway into the ocean through land reclamation.
Badlisham said that MAHB and the Government had looked at similar plans before, but no approval was given because the construction will "spoil the beauty" of the island.
There was a plan to build a new airport on Tioman in 2003. However, former Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat cancelled the project in 2009, citing environmental concerns.
Since Berjaya Air stopped providing flights to the small Kampung Tekek airbase in Tioman several years ago, only chartered 12-seater single-engine flights are available.