The rustic charm of Pulau Ketam, located off the coast of Port Klang in Selangor, is at once unique and alluring.
This mangrove island has a fishing village which is popular with both local and foreign tourists for its seafood and laidback lifestyle.
However, there is another thing the village on stilts is (in)famous for – the rubbish below.
This is caused by incoming tides that bring in rubbish from the mainland and also littering by locals and visitors alike.
In an effort to clean up the island, a long-term initiative called “Wipe Out Waste @ Pulau Ketam” was launched earlier this year by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and The Coca-Cola Company. The initiative aims to educate and encourage the local population to tackle solid waste issues affecting the island.
As part of the initiative, 150 Coca-Cola staff and representatives from MNS visited SMK Pulau Ketam in late September for a community event.
The activities included planting 200 mangrove saplings and installing fishing nets (donated by the local fishing community) at the back of the school in a bid to trap and reduce the amount of rubbish that flows into the school compound.
Once the saplings grow to a substantial size – which takes at least three years – MNS is hopeful that they can effectively trap and reduce rubbish flowing into the school compound by about 20%. Currently, other mangroves help reduce the inflow of rubbish into the main areas of the entire island by about 50%.
“The back of this school is where the tide comes in, bringing rubbish, so the fishing nets and mangroves will act as natural traps,” said I.S. Shanmugaraj, Malaysian Nature Society’s executive director, at the event.
“Mangrove forests act as a natural filter for our seas and coast. We also need to conserve the mangroves that we have in order to prevent flooding,” he added.
Shanmugaraj said that the bakau minyak or bakau kurap are two mangrove species with good root systems to prevent soil erosion and trap rubbish.
A recent survey by MNS also showed that the island’s environmental health has deteriorated.
There is a lack of juvenile commercial fish inside the mangrove areas and fewer bird sightings.
“Being a mangrove area, there are usually a lot of shore birds around, especially on mudflats. But you don’t see many birds these days and it’s linked to the lack of fishes that the birds can feed on during low tide,” said Shanmugaraj.
“While we were planting the mangrove saplings behind the school, we found layers of plastic stuck underneath the mudflats. That prevents the shrimps and cockles from surviving there,” he added.
Research on fishes in the area also revealed a scarcity of fish in general – uncommon in mangrove surroundings – and small fishes like baby siakap or kembung.
Besides the lack of buffer zones for fishing activities, which help promote sustainable fishing, the existence of garbage also means trash gets caught in fishing nets.
“The Pulau Ketam ecosystem needs to be conserved to protect the environment as well as preserve the culture and economy of the local community.
“The health and condition of this particular area has certainly been affected and the island’s solid waste management system also needs improvement,” said Shanmugaraj, who is also involved in environmental education in MNS.
Currently, there is a contractor tasked to collect solid waste from the island.
However, Shanmugaraj said there needs to be a good rubbish disposal system as well as proper placement of garbage bins to prevent excess rubbish from flowing over into the waters or being rummaged by dogs and cats.
“The island has great potential for eco-tourism, with its beautiful mangroves, platforms and seafood. We need to take care of our marine ecosystem and protect our coastal towns,” he said.
Editor’s note: It’s intriguing to explore the concrete and wooden walkways of the fishing village above the mangrove mudflats of Pulau Ketam.
But due to the lack of trees there, these paths are all exposed to the blazing sun. Coupled with the coastal mugginess, it becomes very uncomfortable to walk there from 11am to 4pm.
Apart from garbage-trapping, planting more mangroves will provide a habitat for fish and birds. It will also help provide much needed shade so that locals and visitors alike can walk in a cooler, more comfortable setting.
Hopefully, the village can one day have a more resort-like setting within a lush mangrove forest.