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Last Update: 23 Oct 2018
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| Legislation and Administration | ICZM Agencies | Issues in the Sarawak Coastal Zone |


The coastal zone of Sarawak is currently under the jurisdiction of several government authorities. Responsibilities overlap and the degree of co-ordination and communication between agencies is inadequate in terms of efficient and effective coastal management.

Principal Legislation Controlling the Administration of Activities in the Coastal Zone:

  • Merchant Shipping Ordinance Sarawak, 1969
  • Environmental Quality Act, 1974
  • Local Government Act, 1976
  • Fisheries Act, 1985
  • National Resources and Environmental Ordinance Sarawak, 1993
  • The Sarawak Rivers (Cleanliness) Regulation, 1993
  • Public Parks and Green Ordinance, 1993
  • Water Ordinance, 1994
  • Sarawak Biodiversity Centre Ordinance, 1997
  • National Parks and Natural Reserves Ordinance, 1998
  • Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 1998

Sarawak administration tends to be performed in rigid sectoral systems. The challenge of ICZM in Malaysia is to devise a regulatory system that incorporates continuous improvements and institutionalises interdisciplinary communication and development between the various government authorities.

All three tiers of government in Malaysia, State Federal and local, are involved in coastal zone management. There is an urgent need to improve the existing consultative mechanisms or develop new ones to enhance both horizontal and vertical coordination particularly for coastal zone management.

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The concerns and responsibilities of government agencies involved in coastal zone management in Sarawak are described below:

Water Resources Council
Identification Water resources

Natural Resources and Environment Board
Monitoring and goal setting for quality of air and water. Public awareness issues.

Sarawak Rivers Board
Registration of riverbank industries, environmental water quality monitoring, and goal setting for river traffic and river pollution.

Sarawak Health Department
Disease occurrence, sanitation, latrines and water supply, and solid waste mainly in squatter areas.

Land and Survey Department
Planning of land classification, division and land-use, including extraction of natural resources

Marine Fisheries Department
Marine aquaculture development and management of marine resources.

Marine Department

Monitors all matters of transport and communication on the sea and coastal waters of Sarawak.

Department of Forestry
Protection of peat and mangrove forests.

Department of Agriculture
Commercial, technological, and infrastructure development related to agriculture; soil information and soil research; exploitation of inland fisheries; and licensing of inland aquaculture projects.

Sarawak Biodiversity Council
Protection of the coastal flora and fauna of Sarawak.

Local Authorities
Planning of general waste production and waste accumulation.

Department of Irrigation and Department
Hydrological and river basin information. Goal setting for management of coastal erosion. River bank clearing and stabilisation; public awareness campaigns; canal upgrade, irrigation schemes and public education.

Public Works Department, Sarawak
Water quality information and goal setting concerning drinking water supplies. Study water levels and groundwater occurrence.

Department of Environment
Collection of data concerning quality of air and water. Determine standards for industrial waste, oil and chemical pollution.

In addition to the above, the Ministry of Planning and Resources Management, the Ministry of Tourism, and the Department of Minerals and Geoscience all have planning and management concerns in the coastal zone.

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Coastal ecosystems are rich in natural resources, but sustainable resource management is necessary if these resources re to be available for future generations as well. Coastal ecosystems are sensitive and there is a dire need to balance economic development with nature conservation and environmental protection.

The principle areas of concern for the coastal zone of Sarawak as summarised below:

Coastal Erosion

Coastal erosion is considered a major problem on the coast of Miri from the mouths of Batang Baram to the Sg. Miri. The erosion is natural, but is compounded caused by different land-uses and economic activities. It threatens the coastal road and other structures along the coast, and both long-term and short-term solutions are required.

Guidelines exist concerning Natural Erosion Control, River Erosion and Sand Extraction. These guidelines have been drawn up by the Federal Environmental Agencies. It is considered important that these guidelines are adopted and enforced by the State.

Furthermore it is recommended that the State adopts a Shoreline Management Plan focusing on the areas immediately under threat.

Beach Pollution

The beaches of Sarawak are becoming increasingly dirty. This pollution is impacting the tourist industry as well as degrading the quality of life of local residents. The main source of pollution originates from logging, petroleum and plantation industries as well as from squatters living in close proximity to the beaches.

The Miri Pilot Project Area has had significant success in dealing with beach pollution issues. Indicators from there are that operationally the issue is best tackled through the establishment of a local ICZM Unit devise clean-up targets for each agency concerned and ensure that these targets are communicated to the public.

Conservation of Mangrove and Peatland

Mangroves are considered essential ecological and physical components of the riverbank and muddy coastline vegetation. Habitat fragmentation of mangroves due to clearing or felling reduces the capacity of mangroves to perform their function as nursery areas for a myriad of fish, crabs and shrimps that are an important food source for the inhabitants of the area. In Sarawak the fishing industry is almost entirely biologically dependent on mangroves. Disturbance of the aquatic biodiversity ultimately reduces the economic potential on which the fishing industry relies.

Other functions of the mangrove forests relate to its ability to stabilise and prevent shoreline erosion, prevent tidal flooding and salt water intrusion. Furthermore, it acts as a buffer zone between land and sea thus protecting the beaches from excessive siltation from the rivers.

It is considered important that the State gazettes all mangrove stands of class 1, 2 and 3 as forest reserves and subjects any land development to strict scrutiny under guidelines from the Natural Resources Environment Board (NREB), the Department of Environment (DOE) and the Department of Forestry (FD). Further studies on the protected flora and fauna are required to assess the need to expand the existing protected areas.

Peat swamp areas represent the second largest total habitat in the coastal area with over 600 species of plants. Peat swamps have important functions. They act as reservoirs for collecting and storing valuable freshwater. The control the hydrology of an area and provide essential freshwater inflow that is critical for the survival of the coastal mangrove forest. Peat forests play a crucial role as barriers to flood and storm water, as well as acting as buffers between the upland and the coastal zones, maintaining the hydrological balance in the latter. Due to the increasing demands for arable land, peat forests have been conserved for agricultural purposes. Agricultural activities have lead to changes in the soil and hydrological conditions of peatlands. As a result the water supply storage capacity of these areas has been reduced.

Both in terms of peat and mangrove forests it is essential to identify areas for conservation and areas for development. Data must be collected regularly and planners are strongly advised to consult the scientific data relevant for a specific area prior to approval development initiatives.

Water Supply Depletion and pollution

Catchments are important areas in which groundwater supplies are recharged, wetlands are pulsed by hydrological connections and rivers are nourished. They are also important areas for drinking water supplies.

Depletion of groundwater resource occurs both in a qualitative and a quantitative sense. The conversion of peat land for agriculture plantation or for urbanisation and industrial development reduces the water storage capacity of the catchment. Degradation of water quality occurs through intrusion of wastes, chemicals and other pollutants into the water catchment system. Furthermore, over-exploitation of groundwater results in saltwater intrusion from the sea that consequently lessens the ability of the catchment to supply fresh drinking water.

In order to protect the quality of the water supply, the State needs to map and gazette these catchments and enforce strict environmental controls permitting only those activities that are compatible with its function as water supply. It is important to identify areas for conservation and areas for development.

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