Consider habitats of marine animals in reclamation projects

Letters to Editor                                                        25 April 2017
 

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) is heartened to hear from  the D’Residence Residents Committee  about the presence of otters at their gated community. 

Being a cute and intelligent animal they are a sight to behold and people are fascinated by their antics.  Otters making their presence felt is not new.  Sea otters reside near the shore, inhabiting shallow coastal waters and occasionally venturing onshore. 

Sightings of otters have been commonly reported by the media in Penang.  Significantly the report of a family of 10 smooth-coated otters taking residence in a highly polluted river – the Sungai Pinang – means that the fishes have come back due to a new lease of life for the ‘resurrected’ river and along with it comes a  family of otters. (The Star 21st June 2015 – Otter family breathes hope for river that’s brought to life).

The smooth coated otter is listed as vulnerable under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and totally protected under the Malaysian Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. 

While sea otters are  vulnerable to natural predators, their populations are significantly impacted by several human factors as well. Direct conflict with humans, such as  entrapment in fishing traps and nets pose a major threat to sea otter populations.

Many fishermen use fishing gear that can entangle sea otters and cause them to drown. Since sea otters eat many of the same shellfish humans  eat, such as sea urchins, lobster and crab, they often find themselves in the same areas fishermen like to harvest. Some shell fishers view sea otters as competition and a threat to their economic gain.

Pollution on land runs off into the sea, contaminating the sea otters’ habitat. This can jeopardize their food sources, as well as harm them directly. Sea otters are often contaminated with toxic pollutants and disease-causing parasites as a result of runoff in coastal waters.

One of the things sea otters do better than any other marine mammal, and possibly better than any other marine animal, is an indicator of  the health of the nearby shore marine ecosystem that supports them. They monitor, not only ecosystem health, but also diseases and intoxications that are harmful to human beings.

SAM is disheartened to learn that the seafront at Bayan Mutiara is being reclaimed for development.  The sea otters and other marine life are highly  likely to be affected by habitat degradation and loss. Developments such as land reclamation, sewage, dredging, dumping  degrade the environment and take up valuable habitat.

SAM urges the government and the local planning authorities to assess how  reclamation projects will impact the otters.  The impacts to be considered  include habitat loss or degradation in or near water bodies, disturbance to resting and feeding places, disturbance to their usual routes forcing otters to use roads or bridges where otters are  more likely to be killed or injured on the road,  and also changes to water quality which could also affect food sources. 

SAM calls for further reclamation project to be scrapped taking into consideration existence of endangered animals such as sea otters.

 

S M Mohd Idris

President

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