KINABATANGAN, Nov 27 2015:

Costing them over RM100,000 worth of their livelihood, villagers in Malaysia’s largest Ramsar site who lost seven tonnes of caged fish overnight want answers on what caused their stock of groupers, snappers and other types of fish to die.

They had noticed something amiss with the fish, reared in 50 cages, before dawn on Nov 20 and by day break their worst fears were confirmed, says Kampung Mumiang Village Development and Security Committee head Mada Hussin.

“We were shocked to find all the fish floating dead in their cages although we had tried to revive them the next morning.

“Villagers usually keep some fish for their own consumption and sell the rest. We have lost everything,” he said in a statement, adding losses could run as high as RM100,000 leaving some 50 families in a dilemma as they no longer depend on catching fish at the nearby river due to dwindling stocks.

Kampung Mumiang is located at the estuary of the Kinabatangan river and is about an hour away by speed boat from Sandakan.

Villagers immediately notified the relevant agencies and were now waiting for results of samples taken by the Fisheries Department, adding that they were also keen to know findings made by the Department of Environment and the Sabah Forestry Department.

Mada said villagers believed that the fish were wiped out by pollutants that had flowed from an oil palm estate into the Malangking river, a tributary of the Kinabatangan.

Villagers had earlier noticed a body of algal rich water in the tributary from that estate wash into the area.

“Prior to this incident, there was heavy rain for five days in a row. This may have washed pollutants from an agricultural estate into the river and impacted its quality.

“The last time we lost fish on this scale was about four years ago. This time, we must be compensated, but first we need the authorities to provide us with reports of their investigations.”

He said despite the fact that the village was located within the Lower Kinabatangan-Segama Wetlands Ramsar site, the conservation area recently discussed at the International Heart of Borneo Conference in Kota Kinabalu, villagers were not secure due to the impact caused by plantations and other external factors.

Commenting on the incident, Forever Sabah director Cynthia Ong said the consequences of such tragic events were typically associated to oxygen depletion in “dead zones” caused by fertilisers, palm oil mill effluents, disturbed peat soil or other nutrients, wiping out whole areas of marine life and breeding grounds.

“These areas are important for biodiversity, including fish eating birds and mammals, and can damage even offshore fisheries.

“Studies in Malaysia and around the world show fisheries sustained by healthy mangroves are worth hundreds of dollars per hectare to the Sabah economy. It is not right that anyone’s poor land management should make others pay those costs,” Ong said.

Sukau assemblyman Datuk Saddi Abdul Rahman had on Tuesday called for the matter to be investigated as part of his talking points at a debate at the State Legislative Assembly sitting.

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