The fate of the only remaining ‘oxygen tank’ in Kuala Selangor’s Banjar South Mangrove Forest has of late been thrust under the microscope and debated by nature lovers and local communities. This first of a two-part article examines the status of the Kuala Selangor Nature Park.
KUALA SELANGOR, June 16 – The Kuala Selangor coastline’s mangrove belt acts as a natural buffer against erosion, tidal surges and even tsunamis. However, the destruction of the mangrove forests looms large in the wake of the rapid pace of development taking place in the surrounding areas.
Just recently, a proposal has emerged to develop the 292-hectare Kuala Selangor Nature Park (KSNP) into an international-class tourist destination, which has since drawn much criticism from experts, nature lovers and the local communities.
Situated on the estuary of Sungai Selangor and adjacent to Bukit Melawati, about 60 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur, the wetlands sanctuary is well known as a transition point for migratory birds. It is also known for its mangrove ecosystems and diverse range of flora and fauna.
Although there is nothing in black and white pertaining to the Selangor government’s decision on the proposal, the development – if it goes through – will certainly have long-term repercussions on the environment as KSNP is the only remaining ‘oxygen tank’ in Kuala Selangor’s Banjar South Mangrove Forest.
If the Kuala Selangor project is approved, it will not be the first time the sanctity of the park is violated. Between 2007 and 2008, it was exploited by fish and prawn aquaculture operators who set up their illegal operations there. Fortunately, their activities ceased following swift action by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), which has been managing KSNP since 35 years ago.
Still, aggressive land-use activities outside the park along a stretch of the mangrove forest, estimated to be over 10 kilometres long based on Google Earth calculations, have given rise to much concern.
During the third meeting of the second term of the Selangor State Legislative Assembly in 2019, it was announced that KSNP was in the final stage of being gazetted as a permanent forest reserve (hutan simpanan kekal or HSK) for recreational, education and research purposes.
However, in view of the latest development, there is a question mark over KSNP’s latest status. If the park – which was opened to the public in 1987 – has already been gazetted as an HSK, then why is it being targeted for development?
MNS KSNP manager Maichal Isthyben is also unsure of the fate of the nature park which he regards as his second home. He said certain parties have been there to conduct a preliminary survey believed to be in connection with the proposed international-class tourism project.
However, to date, there has been no notification on this from the Selangor government to MNS, which is tasked with the management of KSNP.
“So far, the state government has not sent anyone to explain to us what the project is all about,” he told Bernama when met recently.
According to Maichal, at the end of May he was informed that representatives of the company that was behind the planning of the KSNP tourism project would be arriving at the park to carry out survey and boundary demarcation works.
He said the company concerned had claimed that it had obtained the approval of the Selangor Forestry Department (JPNS) to enter the park and carry out the necessary work.
In fact, the company representatives produced a photograph of JPNS’ approval letter dated May 23, 2022, which was signed by its (JPNS) director Datuk Ahmad Fadzil Abdul Majid and addressed to a director of the company who had a Tan Sri title.
Said Maichal: “We were shocked when several representatives of the developer came to survey the land (at KSNP) and showed us the approval letter which clearly indicated the proposed development of KSNP into an international-class tourist centre.”
He said the approval letter came as a complete surprise, not only because MNS has been protecting and conserving the park for over three decades and promoting it as a centre for mangrove education, research and ecotourism activities but also on the basis of the role played by the nature park in safeguarding the well-being of the people and environment.
He urged JPNS and the state government to be more transparent and provide a detailed explanation of the proposed development to MNS and the local communities as well as clarify the status of KSNP.
He said during the Movement Control Order period last year, an MNS programme officer was invited to a meeting with the Department of Survey and Mapping Malaysia (JUPEM) and JPNS officers to discuss efforts to make KSNP a forest reserve.
“However, to date, MNS has not been informed of the progress of the efforts concerned. Recently, there were rumours that KSNP has become an HSK (permanent forest reserve) after news of the proposed development started circulating.”
“We (MNS) are managing KSNP and as such we should know the status of this park. This is because if anything untoward happens here, MNS will surely be blamed. When an area’s status is changed to HSK, it will be officially announced. But why is it that no such announcement has been made with regard to KSNP,” he asked.
Maichal said if it is true that KSNP’s status has been changed to HSK, he still did not understand how the area can be proposed for development. The park will have to be degazetted first before it can be developed. The degazettement process itself has to go through many stages which include conducting a public investigation exercise to obtain feedback from the public.
He said MNS would welcome the gazetting of KSNP as an HSK as it has for a long time sought to turn it into a forest reserve or state park.
MNS has also been striving for years to get the area declared as a Ramsar site in order to protect its natural heritage, habitats and wildlife. KSNP, incidentally, is located centrally in the East Asian-Australian Flyway which is the flyway used by international migratory birds from October to March.
The park is also rich in protected and endemic fauna species such as the endangered burung upeh (milky stork), mangrove tiger butterfly and Selangor silvered langur, a leaf monkey species.
The area is also a habitat for endangered otter species such as smooth-coated otter, Asian small-clawed otter and hairy-nosed otter.
The only way to protect KSNP’s valuable mangrove ecosystems is by granting it a permanent forest reserve or Ramsar site status, stressed Maichal.
“What is the real purpose of making KSNP a forest reserve? This is a big issue because a forest reserve is meant to be protected, not to be developed. Even if the development only covers part of the park, it is still a threat to the environment.”
“The state government should, by right, reject any development proposal if it really wants to protect this natural treasure,” he added.
LUXURY RESORT WITHIN FOREST
Maichal, who showed the proposed KSNP tourism project plan to Bernama, said he understood that the area was going to be developed for ecotourism activities. A luxury resort, covering several zones including the mangrove area, was also in the works.
The proposed project also includes facilities such as a centre for the sale of local products, spa, yoga and tai chi centre, hot spring and various types of accommodation including 200 units of chalets.
“If we are to look at the plan, the development will also encroach into the mangrove swamp area,” Maichal said, adding that KSNP consisted of a secondary forest in the front and mangrove forest at the rear.”
“MNS is not anti-development because we understand that development cannot be avoided. But why not have such projects in states that have a lot of idle land, instead of destroying KSNP’s mangrove ecosystems that are not only important to the local communities there but to all of us,” he said.
Bukit Melawati assemblyman Juwairiya Zulkifli, who is also the Selangor Menteri Besar’s political secretary, appeared to be unsure of the real status of KSNP when queried by Bernama.
“As far as I know, KSNP has not been gazetted yet (as HSK)… it is still being processed,” she said.
She, however, acknowledged that the state government has received a proposal from a developer to build a resort in a certain portion of KSNP. According to Juwairiya, to date, no decision has been made on this by the state government.
“We need more detailed information on which part (of KSNP) they intend to develop and whether the mangrove swamp will be affected and the extent of the development.”
“… we will not give our approval if the developer wants to redevelop everything. I will also put forward my concerns as KSNP is a location for migratory birds… all these issues have to be presented and proposed to JPNS. It has to be studied carefully so that our forests are not affected,” she said.
STILL IN THE PROCESS
JPNS’ Ahmad Fadzil, meanwhile, told Bernama that KSNP is in the process of being gazetted as a permanent forest reserve.
He said KSNP was approved as an HSK, with an area of about 292.18 hectares, by the Selangor State Executive Council in 2018. It was also renamed Melawati Forest Reserve.
“The gazetting of this forest reserve is currently underway and is in the second phase which entails the preparation of the Gazette Plan by JUPEM Selangor.”
“During the final stage, JPNS will take the necessary action to prepare the gazette announcement through the Selangor Land and Mines Office, which is expected to be completed this year,” he explained.
JPNS also appointed a licensed surveyor at the end of 2021 to carry out a detailed survey and prepare a certified plan for Melawati Forest Reserve. The survey process was carried out in accordance with the set work schedule.
As of April 12, 2021, Selangor has gazetted around 250,000 hectares of forests as HSK, constituting 31 percent of the state’s total area, that are managed under its sustainable forest management principles for economic, social and environmental interests.
Translated by Rema Nambiar