Communities struggle to save Sabah’s shrinking mangroves

    • A development plan establishing shrimp farms and timber plantations begun purportedly to reduce poverty in northern Sabah, Malaysia, has attracted criticism from local communities and NGOs, which say the project is ignoring communities’ land rights.
    • Satellite imagery shows the clearing of large tracts of mangrove forest for shrimp farms. Critics of the development say this is depriving forest-dependent local communities of their livelihoods as well as threatening mangrove wildlife.
    • Several communities have banded together and are together petitioning the government to officially recognize their rights to the remaining mangroves and prevent further clearing for development.

TELAGA, Malaysia — The district of Pitas in the Malaysian state of Sabah is situated on the 40-kilometer Bengkoka peninsula on the island of Borneo, stretching east into the South China sea.

This forested, hilly area slopes down to the coast along the Telaga River, through ancient mangrove forest. But since the 1980s, it has been increasingly opened up by government-sanctioned development projects; more recently, in 2013, mangrove clearance has resumed for the commercial farming of shrimp (also referred to as prawns). This resurgence has brought the company Sunlight Inno Seafood Company Sdn Bhd, which is supported by the government, into conflict with local communities that depend on the mangroves for their livelihoods.

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  • Pitas_Sabah02
    Mastupang Bin Somoi, 52, from Kampung Sungai Eloi stands in front of an area of mangrove forest which has been killed off for clearance through unknown means. The authority for clearing the area is contested because at the time the company responsible did not have the required environmental impact assessment.
  • Pitas_Sabah06
    Mastupang Bin Somoi, 52, from Kampung Sungai Eloi paddles his boat through ancient mangrove forests on which his community depends for fish and produce. Much of the forest has already been cleared and the community is keen to maintain an area to sustain their livelihoods. The mangrove are an important habitat for endangered species like crocodile and proboscis monkeys.
  • Pitas_Sabah07
    Mastupang Bin Somoi, from Kampung Sungai Eloi in Pitas holds a handful of shellfish that he has foraged in a stream in the mangrove forest.
  • Pitas_Sabah04
    Mastupang Bin Somoi stands amongst the threatened mangroves he is campaigning to save from prawn farms and get recognised under the community native customary rights.
  • Pitas_Sabah01
    Mastupang Bin Somoi, inspects the operations of the AFI company which operates acacia plantations on land claimed by the neighbouring communities.
  • Pitas_Sabah03
    Two indigenous 'Orang Asli' fishers row through an area of mangroves on forest claimed for their customary native forest. It was previously destroyed for prawn farms being set up in the area.
  • Pitas_Sabah05
    A fenced off area of prawn farm established in an area cleared from the surrounding mangrove forest which is claimed by local indigenous communities.
  • Pitas_Sabah08
    A truck laden with Acacia logs is transported along a trail in Pitas district, Sabah, East Malaysia.


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