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Malaysia firefly light blinking out as Kuala Sepetang mangrove loses more trees

By John Bunyan The Malay Mail OnlinreWednesday January 10, 2018

The view of fireflies at night along the Kuala Sepetang river in Kampung Dew. MALAY MAIL/ Marcus Pheong

About nine berembang mangrove trees which served as a natural habitat for fireflies along the Kuala Sepetang river have been cut down. — Picture by Marcus Pheong

TAIPING, Malaysia – The glow from fireflies dancing along the Kuala Sepetang river in Kampung Dew here is fading fast as deforestation cuts into their habitat.

Nine more berembang mangrove trees in the area, estimated to be over 80 years old, disappeared over the weekend, not three months after 3,000 trees spread over two hectares were chopped down to make way for what locals believe will become an oil palm plantation.

“I went to the area near the pintu gerbang for fishing. The place used to be dark as the trees would block out the sunlight.

“However, I noticed that the berembang trees had been cut down. I also saw around four foreigners, believed to be Indonesian, cutting down the trees,” fisherman Adam Rosli told Malay Mail when met here today.

Fireflies are seen flickering at night along the Kuala Sepetang river in Kampung Dew January 10, 2018. — Picture by Marcus PheongThe 24-year-old said he spotted the latest encroachment into the firefly habitat at around 4pm last Saturday.

Adam, who also provides boat services for tourists, said he failed to confront the tree cutters as they left in hurry after one of their timber-laden boats hit a row of trees on the river bank and sank.

“The boat is still below the surface of the water with the timber. It will be dangerous for tour boats as it could hit the timber or the boat during low tide,” he said.

Another, boat operator Shamsul Anuar, 45, believed that the trees were cut down in order to widen the river passage and make it easier for bigger boats to transport the timber.

“Their boats are big and the gateway would have been a hindrance for their passage.

“But they don’t understand that trees are the fireflies’ habitat. It is also a tourist attraction. They can’t simply cut down the trees in the area,” he said.

The berembang trees, scientifically called sonneratia caseolaris or mangrove apple in English, which can grow to heights of 20 metres with a trunk diameter of up to 50cm, is known to be a gathering spot for fireflies in South-east Asia.

The area Adam called the pintu gerbang or “gateway” is named as such because the berembang mangrove trees on both banks grow and meet overhead and form an arch over the river, according to Kampung Dew Fireflies Tourism Association secretary Shukor Ishak.

“The unique, naturally formed site is best seen at night as the gateway will be filled with fireflies, which creates a massive flickering light on the gateway.

“However, the beautiful sight is now gone due to the act of a few irresponsible individuals,” Shukor told Malay Mail.

The Kuala Sepetang river in Kampung Dew which is the home for the fireflies. MALAY MAIL/Farhan Najib

The 48-year-old recounted that 200 berembang trees were cut down in December 2015 and another 3,000 last year, which Malay Mailreported in October.

The incident also affected the livelihood of tour and boat operators in Kampung Dew as half the firefly population migrated to a different area, resulting in a drop of visitor numbers.

Shukor said he reported the encroachments to the State Forestry Department, State Drainage and Irrigation Department and State Land and Mines Office on the same day that they happened.

“Personnel from the Forestry Department came the next day and took the diameter measurements of the trees that were cut down,” he said.

However, he claimed there has been no follow-up by the authorities since.

He urged the authorities to take immediate and stern action against those who cut down the firefly habitat, warning that it will be too late when the insects are all gone.


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