KOTA KINABALU: Casuarina trees that are at least 20 years old along the Tanjung Aru beach were chopped down over the weekend amid questions over the future of the beachfront area.
Officials said the trees were not in good condition, but netizens questioned whether they were removing the trees as part of the plan to proceed with the much debated Tanjung Aru Eco Development (TAED) project.
Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Jafry Arifin said the trees were deemed unhealthy and posed safety risks.
He said he got this information from Kota Kinabalu Mayor Noorliza Ag Alip.
“The chopping down of the trees is done after a study by the City Hall landscape department following an examination on the conditions of the trees there.
“City Hall officials took this step to prevent any untoward incident,” Jafry said, referring to the response by Noorliza.
City Hall Landscaping Department director Rozie Khan said that only three trees were identified as problematic for now, with two already chopped down.
“Those casuarina or aru (as they are known in Sabah) are rotting,” he said, adding the works had nothing to do with land clearing.
In fact, one of the three had already died, he said.
As for the other two, one had cavity and dieback (a condition in which a plant begins to die from the tip of its leaves or roots backwards, due to disease or unfavourable environment) while the other also showed signs of dieback, was tilted and rotting at the top, Rozie said.
“Two of the trees have been axed while the other will be taken down after Hari Raya Haji.”
Their tree inspection team also identified several other trees that showed signs of disease and rot, and the next course of action would be known soon, he said.
Environmentalist SM Muthu said the public concern arose due to the uncertainty surrounding the multi-billion TAED project.
Many people are also worried whether the project would displace whatever open sea-facing public space that is now freely available to everyone.
Covering some 340ha, TAED was first introduced by the then Barisan Nasional government before the 14th general election.
The project was supposed to have seven hotels with 1,800 rooms, 5,000 apartment and condominium units, a marina, entertainment venues, as well as a 133ha golf course.
When Warisan and its allies took over the state government following GE14, they decided to retain a scaled-down version of the project, despite earlier saying it would be scrapped.
When Gabungan Rakyat Sabah took over from Warisan in the 2020 state election, it was said TAED would go on in a scaled down version, though to date, there are no details on how it will look like when completed.