Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Controversial oceanarium still needs EIA evaluation

A controversial oceanarium resort at Pulau Mabul along Sabah’s east coast still has to get the approval of various authorities here although the state cabinet has endorsed the land office’s green light for project.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said the oceanarium proponents would need to get approval for the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) and development before it can get off the ground.

Subject of controversy: Part of the existing chalets on Pulau Mabul.

He said his ministry would evaluate the proposal when they received the development plan of the proposed oceanarium.

“As such, the issue of the project’s approval does not arise at this point in time,” he told The Star yesterday.

He said the EIA was a crucial component in the entire evaluation process of the project.

Masidi said the state cabinet had endorsed the state Land and Survey Department’s decision to approve the resort’s location on a 33ha site on the basis the project proponents carry out rehabilitation and conservation works of the coral reefs in the area concerned.

He said the state needed more high-end tourism products such as resorts “to value add what nature has endowed us.”

He added that despite this, protecting and conserving the environment would be the overriding consideration as Sabah had one of the best track records of conservation efforts in the country.

“We in the state government would like to maintain, if not impro-ve on that,” he added.

Voicing worries over the oceanarium resort plan, environmentalists, villagers and dive operators said the proposed project would spell disaster to Mabul marine life and might also degrade the eco-sensitive coral reefs of Pulau Sipadan, a 20-minute boat ride away.

Application for a 99-year lease for the parcel facing south of Sipadan was first put in by a local company based in Kota Kinabalu in September last year. It was reported the oceanarium would be surrounded by five villages of more than 200 sea-view bungalows and semi-detached villas, with side pools and spa villas as well as staff and scientist quarters.

Sabah Environment Protection Association president Wong Tack questioned the necessity of the oceanarium being built.

He added that tonnes of construction material would have to be brought in by barge and sand pumped in from the shores of the island. Wong said the authority that approved the resort project should remember what happened at Sipadan in 2006 when a construction barge ran aground, destroying a coral reef patch the size of three tennis courts.

He said the existing four resorts for higher-bracket tourists and five to 10 homestay places for backpackers with a total of more than 250 rooms, provided enough accommodation for the 120 divers given permits to dive in Sipadan waters daily.

Source : STAR
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