KOTA KINABALU: A proposed silica sand mining project in the Sikuati area of Sabah’s northern Kudat district will have a negative impact on surrounding communities, says WWF-Malaysia.
This was because the processing site will produce fine silica dust particles known to be hazardous to the human body with long-term exposure, the environmental watchdog group said.
To this end, WWF-Malaysia’s conservation director Dr Henry Chan urged the authorities to tread carefully in developing the area, saying Sikuati had been identified as rich in biodiversity.
He said the area also had tremendous significance from a conservation aspect, citing the Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) as an example.
WWF-Malaysia's stance that proper management of Malaysia's largest multi-use park was important also aligned with Sabah Parks' aspiration to gain global recognition for protected area management, he noted.
This recognition would be in the form of inclusion in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Green List of Protected Areas as a global benchmark for TMP's protected and conserved areas.
"WWF-Malaysia strongly believes that proper protection of the TMP will greatly benefit the areas in and around it.
"Any environmental risks posed to this area could have a domino effect which can lead to detrimental results, affecting the many people who rely on the richness of this area," Chan said in a statement on Friday (Sept 23).
In August, residents from the five villages in Sikuati staged a protest to voice their concerns that the silica sand mining and processing project would inflict environmental harm upon the idyllic Pantai Bangau as well as areas near their villages.
The residents from Kampung Bangau, Andab Bangau, Andab Darat, Kimihang and Longgom Kecil had urged the Sabah government to put a stop to the project, which was run by a China-owned company.
Chan said activities such as mining would have an adverse impact on the environment, including land deterioration and erosion, loss of biodiversity, siltation, sedimentation and run-off to the sea.
He said this would affect the 51.3% of good live coral cover near the north of Sikuati.
"It will also threaten marine turtle foraging grounds near Sikuati coast found in a recent study by the Borneo Marine Research Institute of Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS)," he said.
In order to achieve a win-win situation between people and nature, he said, WWF-Malaysia supported transparency and inclusivity in any development process.
"There are conditions to meet when dealing with any development process.
"First, a feasibility study should be made prior to any approval while taking into account all data from relevant stakeholders.
"And secondly, a robust environmental impact assessment should be done on cumulative impacts from a project.
"This is to develop comprehensive and effective mitigation measures, which will also lead to a better-informed decision making process," he added.
Transparency would also give the public an opportunity to be well informed of the situation and enable them to be included in the feedback process, he said.
Located 14.5 km west of Kudat town, the Sikuati coastal area includes part of the Kudat and Marudu Bay Class V Mangrove Forest in the north, adjacent to TMP’s preservation zone.
This zone provides for the preservation of the park's sensitive habitats, shielding them from potentially damaging activities.
Chan said 5,000 people in the area rely on fishing for their livelihood.
Sikuati also held geological heritage value and tourism potential, and its thriving marine ecosystem enriched the area as well as the state of Sabah, he added.
On Wednesday (Sept 21), Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Jafry Ariffin said an EIA showed the project would not directly involve mining at the scenic beach area.
He said based on the EIA submitted to state authorities on June 22, a sufficient buffer zone was provided between the beach and project site.