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Save the mangrove forest in Pitas (Sabah), Malaysia


The rapidly expanding shrimp aquaculture industry poses one of the gravest threats to the world's remaining mangrove forests and the communities they support. With shrimps becoming the most popular seafood in the world, it is estimated that over 3 million hectares of coastal wetlands, including mangroves, have already been destroyed to make room for artificial shrimp ponds.[1] The mangrove forests in Pitas, Malaysia are under threat.

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman hailed Pitas prawn project on 20 December 2014 as "the largest prawn project in Malaysia ... something to be proud of because it will be a boon for the local community. I am confident this project will help raise the living standard of the locals as it will generate more than 3,000 jobs besides the spillover effects," he said.[3].

In less than two years, more than 2,000 acres of mangrove forests have been destroyed to create shrimp ponds, violating the local communities’ rights and environmental regulations. The last 1,000 acres of community mangrove forests are now also targeted for expansion. In 2010, the Malaysian government launched a new economic initiative aimed at turning Malaysia into a high-income economy by 2020. One of the projects in the district of Pitas, one of the poorest in Sabah, was establishing the country’s largest shrimp farm and promising job opportunities for local communities (kampung). Instead, the project has led to the destruction of the mangrove forests which are their main source of food and income. So far, all of the communities’ complaints and calls for action have been unanswered.

On the banks of the Telaga River, in the district of Pitas, Sabah [1] there is a territory  inhabited by six indigenous communities spending half of their time farming the land and the other half in the mangrove forest.

From the mangrove trees, people used to extract a natural dark red tint which they sold around the district. The wood was used to build traditional houses and boats and the seafood, of which the Telaga River is rich, was their main source of food and income. Since the project started, more than 2,000 acres of mangrove forest have been destroyed to make space for shrimp ponds.

"Our land has been cleared out and we are not allowed near the ponds. The land clearing has also affected the local fauna and endangered a highly delicate environment".

The project is a joint venture between a State government-linked company and private company Sunlight Seafood Sabah. It was part of the Malaysian Economic Transformation Programme. Local people say that they were never consulted about this project and land clearing started even before the project had its EIA approved.

Barbed wire and armed guards often stand between local communities and converted mangrove areas, making it impossible for indigenous people to access their harvesting grounds and sacred sites. In Pitas, members of the local communities have reported being harassed and chased by company staff on a number of occasions.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Save the mangrove forest in Pitas (Sabah), Malaysia
State or province:Sabah
Location of conflict:Pitas
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Shrimps

Project Details and Actors

Project details

This is the official description: "Located in the northernmost part of Sabah, East Malaysia, Pitas Shrimp Park, this is a new, $277 million joint venture between Yayasan Sabah’s Inno-Fisheries, Sdn. Bhd., and Sunlight Seafood (Sabah), Sdn., Bhd., it will have around 1,500 shrimp ponds, a hatchery, a research and development laboratory and a training center for the commercial development of the Pacific white shrimp (Penaeus vannamei). It will employ more than 3,000 people. Yayasan Sabah’s Inno-Fisheries is a government agency dedicated to uplifting the quality of life of the citizens in Sabah, Malaysia. Sunlight Seafood is one of the leading processors and exporters of frozen seafood products in Malaysia.".

Pitas is a town and district in the Kudat Division of the Malaysian state of Sabah. In 2010, its population was estimated at 37,800. Some 2,500 villagers from the district of Pitas in northern Sabah lashed out in April 2016 against plans to expand a shrimp park near their homes, fearing the project would take away another 1,000 acres of mangrove land that they are dependent on.[2]. A committee formed by six villages (kampung) in the Pitas region led by native Mastupang Somoi said that the shrimp farm which was built in 2014 over 2,300 acres has significantly depleted resources and affected the livelihood of subsistence farmers and fishermen in the area. “We now have remaining about 1,000 acres of mangrove land which has a sensitive biosystem and hold our livelihood as well as traditional practises like traditional medicine, building materials and sacred sites". “We are concerned that any further expansion of the farm into this land will permanently and completely destroy our source of income and livelihood on the very ground that we have lived on for eight generations now,” Mastupang told a press conference at the Sabah Environmental Protection Association office in April 2015.[2]. He represents some 2,500 villagers from Kampung Telaga, Kampung Gumpa, Kampung Ungkup, Kampung Boluuh Skim, Kampung Datong and Kampung Sungai Eloi, which are made up mostly of families of Dusun, Rungus, Sungai and Tombonuo descent.

Local media in Sabah reported that the company operating aquaculture park, Sunlight Inno Seafood Sdn Bhd, was slapped with stop-work orders and fines last year after it clear-felled the area without an approved Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report. The RM1.23 billion project, known as the Pitas Shrimp Park, was launched by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman who said it was aimed at helping the rural poor and would create 3,000 jobs.

Project area:1,500
Level of Investment:270,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:3000
Start of the conflict:2012
Company names or state enterprises:Sunlight Seafood (Sabah) from Malaysia
Relevant government actors:Chief Minister (Sabah)
Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority (Sedia),
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Sabah Environmental Protection Association.
Kampung Telaga, Kampung Gumpa, Kampung Ungkup, Kampung Boluuh Skim, Kampung Datong and Kampung Sungai Eloi.
Coalition against Land Grabbing .

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Other Environmental impactsDestruction of mangroves
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other Health impacts
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Displacement, Violations of human rights
Other socio-economic impactsDestruction of sacred areas


Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of alternatives:[3] "Orang asli Mastupang Somoi, 49, from Kampung Eloi, said his people could already see environmental repercussions stemming from an alleged 404ha of mangrove forest destroyed near their village early last year. He said the felling of mangrove forests would also wipe out the natural resources collected by villagers for their daily livelihood, including fish, shellfish, prawns and snails. “We want the project stopped as we are already feeling the effects from the clear-felling done last year. Losing our mangrove trees will only add to the poverty our future generations will face,” said Mastupang, who is one of the community leaders of his village. In addition, he said that the cleared area had been home to many proboscis monkeys, the mascot of Visit Malaysia Year 2014, noting that the primates now seemed traumatised and afraid of humans." 2 March 2014, in The Star.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:So far (early 2017) it seems that destruction of mangrove forests continues although the very large shrimp farming project is in doubt. No proper EIA was carried out.

Sources & Materials

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] The Ecologist. 'Poverty alleviation' shrimp farms destroy mangrove forest, grab indigenous land, by Camilla Capasso. 17th November 2016

RM360 mil Pitas shrimp project ‘bad idea’. Luke Rintod | December 31, 2013.

[2]Thousands of Sabah poor rail against expansion of mega shrimp project. BY JULIA CHAN. 27 April 2016.

Sedia to develop 1,000 acres in Pitas for shrimp farming. January 24, 2014

[3] Pitas aquaculture park an eco-hazard, say villagers. The Star, 2 March 2014.

December 21, 2014. Malaysia. Pitas Shrimp Park, a $277 Million Project. Sources: 1. The Star Online. Largest Prawn Farm to Create 3,000 Jobs. December 21, 2014. 2. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, December 21, 2014.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video on the situation in Pitas. The last of the mangroves - Bakau Terakhir

Destruction of mangroves continues in Pitas. January 12, 2015,

[3]Sabah CM hails Pitas prawn project. 20 December 2014.

Call to Action for solidarity with the Pitas communities shared by Land Rights Now, 2017.

Voices from Pitas, from Caroline Pang. A very good short documentary produced jointly with Sabah Environmental Protection Association (SEPA, for the people of Pitas in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Six villages with 3,000 population who depend entirely on the mangrove for their livelihood are now in devastation. An aquaculture project is chewing up their resources.

Other documents

Villagers complain, by Julia Chan

Meta information

Last update01/02/2017



Villagers complain, by Julia Chan