The Impacts of A Coal-Fired Power Plant on Darvel Bay | WWF Malaysia

The Impacts of A Coal-Fired Power Plant on Darvel Bay

Posted on 11 February 2008
WWF-Malaysia refers to plans to develop a coal-fired power plant in Silam, Lahad Datu (New Sabah Times, 3 November 2007, RM1 billion coal power plant in Lahad Datu to take off by 2008). Grave concerns have been raised recently by SEPA (Sabah Environmental Protection Agency) over the construction of this plant.

In light of the proposed project site which is surrounded by numerous ecologically sensitive ecosystems, Dr. Dionysius SK Sharma, CEO of WWF-Malaysia, says that WWF-Malaysia supports these concerns. Its location means that the potential of the construction and operation of this power plant will cause irreversible impacts to these ecosystems. These ecologically sensitive areas include Tun Sakaran Marine Park, Danum Valley, Gunung Silam, and proposed land and seascape protected areas that encompasses certain islands in Darvel Bay and areas extending inland to Danum.

Darvel Bay is earmarked as a site for tourism and aquaculture in the Sabah Development Corridor (SDC). WWF-Malaysia supports this strategy, as Darvel Bay is located in the globally-important Semporna Priority Conservation Area within the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion, which is at the apex of the Coral Triangle. This area is globally-important due to the rich biodiversity of marine species and the high productivity of its marine habitats. Over 250 species of corals can be found in Darvel Bay, and it also acts as a migratory pathway for marine turtles, dolphins and whales. All these facts is a clear indication of its potential as a strong tourism destination.

The coastal waters in Darvel Bay are clear and very suitable for aquaculture. There is a multi-million dollar aquaculture of groupers (kerapu) - fishes that are in the lucrative Live Reef Fish Trade - in Darvel Bay. The Department of Fisheries Sabah has proposed the designation of 37,300 hectares of coastal land marine waters as an Aquaculture Industrial Zone to serve the objectives of food production under the 2nd Agricultural Policy of Sabah.

Apart from tourism and aquaculture, Darvel Bay acts as an important fishing ground. The quantity of fish landed in 2004 amounted to 90,000 metric tonnes, valued at RM200 million. It is home to the ikan bilis fishery, and serves as a source of livelihood for many of the coastal communities – in 2004, there were 5,250 fishermen in the Darvel area (Lahad Datu, Kunak and Semporna districts).

The execution of the Silam Independent Power Plant (SIPP) has the potential to impact Darvel Bay through pollution, loss of investments and livelihoods, and undermining food security. According to Dr. Ejriah Saleh, a Physical Oceanographer with Universiti Malaysia Sabah who did her PhD. thesis on the circulation of coastal waters at Darvel Bay, the coastal waters of Darvel Bay circulate in a counter-clockwise manner. The implication and significance of this finding with regard to the proposed SIPP is that pollution, thermal or otherwise, will be carried from the outflow of the plant to the aquaculture areas fringing the islands in Darvel Bay.

WWF-Malaysia urges authorities to be guided by one of the outlined principles of the SDC, which is to ensure sustainable growth via environmental conservation. The conservation of the water quality of Darvel Bay must be considered to ensure the sustainability of the ecosystem services provided by these waters, be it for tourism, aquaculture, or fisheries. Therefore, WWF-Malaysia recommends that project alternatives and site alternatives be investigated further.

For further information, please contact:
Marina Aman Sham, Communications Officer, Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion Programme, WWF-Malaysia
Tel (office): +6088 262 420 / Mobile: +6 012 833 1976 / E-mail: