MY last memory of Pulau Pangkor was almost two decades ago. I was 16, and had only vivid images of a pristine island, bluest of blue waters, and amazing hospitality.
I jumped at a chance to revisit Pangkor last December. Many friends and relatives warned me about my expectations of the island. Most of them had visited earlier and were dismayed, from rampant solid waste pollution to poorly managed facilities and services.
Little did I know what would greet me on the island.
I visited the Dutch Fort and the giant rock across it that was supposed to indicate some rich historical aspects of the island, only to be greeted by vandalism. Plastic cups, and junk food wrappers were thrown inside the Fort area, and the giant rock had graffiti on it.
I was so embarrassed at how we could neglect such rich historical artifacts and at the same time, was relieved that not a single foreign visitor was in sight because it would have been more embarrassing to see their reaction.
Nipah Bay used to be a haven of uninterrupted beaches, now chockful of ad hoc hawker stalls and gift shops with poor waste management facilities. The stench from garbage and public toilets greeted me every time I took a walk along the bay.
All the gift shops sell the same things – cheap plastic fridge magnets and junk food, and the signature “I love Pangkor” tees. I was hoping to browse through or purchase some gifts worth reminding me of the island, but found none.
Development within and around the reserve is another major concern. Some locals are now being told to move because their land is needed for more development, like shop lots.
And if you make a quick tour around the island, it is hard not to notice the abandoned piers that jut out from the island like sore thumbs.
Some locals mentioned that the piers were not built according to specifications, thus their boats can’t dock. This goes to show how poor planning ends up with eyesores for tourists.
What is clear is that the island does not need more hotels; neither does the island need any heavy (e.g. ore, steel) industries (Teluk Rubiah is already going through some visible changes) to pollute the waters and also bring an influx of migrant workers.
I doubt the people who live there see the benefit of another row of shophouses that sell – yes, you got it – more fish satay and preserved junk food.
I seriously think an expedition as well as in-depth research are needed to document the destruction of the island. At the same time, historians and sociologists should start taking testimonials from the locals who rely on the island for their survival.
Building – and the urge and pressure to build – more physical structures will not help improve the livelihood of the locals.
There is an even more serious problem – the lack of education and awareness on sustainable island management.
It is as if the people there, on a daily basis, reap all the benefits of the island, leaving none to help the island recuperate.
A seafood restaurant there uses at least 30 sheets of disposable plastic table covers (as opposed to actual table cloths) a night.
Now I am no Maths genius, but a simple calculation tells me that that’s 10,680 plastic sheets a year, 53,400 sheets in five years; and judging from the now already full and poorly managed landfill, Pangkor will be surrounded by a toxic plastic-infused ocean.
I doubt any rehabilitation is planned by any authority. Thus, it’s crucial to study what we, the nation, will be losing because maybe, just maybe, we can learn and understand not to do the same to other islands in our country.
Pangkor will be an expensive lesson to learn from but if it’s to help us prevent the destruction of other beautiful tropical islands, then maybe, so be it.
What really saddens me about Pangkor is that no one cares. And that would be the catalyst to accelerate the destruction of Pangkor. All the right ingredients for the absolute annihilation of Pangkor are now in front of us. We need to stop the cook from stirring up a storm.
YASMIN RASYID, President/Founder, Pertubuhan Alam Sekitar EcoKnights Kuala Lumpur dan Selangor.
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