UNLIKE previous years, Zainal Ghani is not collecting honey from the gelam forest in Sungai Caluk. Instead, he is surveying felled trees in the cleared forest. Gelam trees bloom in the third quarter of the year. Bees collect the nectar from the flowers to produce the honey that is a traditional source of income for villagers like Zainal in the Penarik area in Setiu.
“Many people collect honey from these forests. Between September and November every year, we come in our boats and collect the bee nests on alternate days. A team of three persons can easily gather two or three nests in half a day.
“Each of us can earn RM200 from selling the honey in the market,” says Zainal. The 40-year-old from Kampung Beris Tok Ku learnt the skill of collecting honey from his father.
The loss of income from honey-collection is just the beginning of an uncertain future for Zainal and his fellow villagers. The impacts from the development of the Integrated Shrimp Aquaculture Park (i-SHARP) will alter the subsistence economy in the second poorest district in the country.
Fisherman Malek Yunus, 55, is convinced that the high salinity level in the effluent will contaminate the river and affect catch.
“How come they can build the tunnel to bring in sea water but not to discharge it properly back into the sea? We’re not against the project but it shouldn’t destroy our source of livelihood. Riverine fishery is more stable than off-shore fishery. They complement each other and provide us a predictable source of income.”
Malek says the basic household income is more than the RM500 claimed by the project consultants. He says on average, the fishermen earn RM70 a day from a variety of work. Villagers also cultivate watermelons, rice and oil palm.
Mohd Azuan Kassim fears that discharges from the shrimp farm will foul Sungai Setiu, where his fish cages are located.
He claims that the consultants did not meet any of the 40 fishermen of Kampung Beris Tok Ku although they are the ones dependent on an unspoilt Sungai Caluk.
“Perhaps they spoke to the village development committee but these people are not the fisherfolk,” he says.
Mohd Azuan Kassim of Kampung Mangkuk was offered a job by i-SHARP but he prefers to work on his own cage culture raising fish like barrumundi. He says villagers were not informed of the discharge.
“When we found out later, we disagreed with the project but we’re helpless. The effluent will flow through this part of Sungai Setiu and will affect my fish,” says the 27-year-old. He says the river is bountiful and provides a sustainable source of income for those who are willing to toil.
Further downstream at the Setiu lagoon in Gong Batu, the 80-odd cage culture ventures that were initiated by the Fisheries Department in the 1990s as part of a poverty alleviation scheme, also face an uncertain future.
Kamarudin Long is resigned to losing his oyster farm. He was looking forward to the declaration of the Setiu State Park but now laments: “What’s the point of having a state park only to destroy it?”
The swamps and lagoon are important spawning grounds for all sorts of marine life. World Wide Fund for Nature says 60% of wild grouper fries and oyster seeds in the country are sourced from this region.