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With around a million tourists frolicking on Malaysian beaches every year, unlicensed resorts are a money-spinner for financially challenged villagers who depend on tourism for a livelihood.
However, an investigation found that villagers who convert their homes into chalets and homestays to cater to both foreign and local tourists are causing more damage to the islands than they know.
It was found that much of the sewage pollution from island resorts can be traced to unlicensed ones. Many of these resorts were also built without adherence to fire and safety laws, have improper sewage systems and cause other issues like mosquito breeding due to clogged drains.
Observers who spoke to Malaysiakini also claim loose enforcement, with some alleging that enforcing officers have vested interests in the local businesses.
50 licensed, many more in operation
One of Malaysia’s most popular island destinations is the Perhentian Islands, which falls under the Besut District Council of Terengganu.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a council officer with knowledge of the matter admitted that many resorts on the Perhentian Islands are unlicensed.
“We have done numerous raids and issued compounds, but they ignore it and continue to operate,” she revealed.
The officer said these resorts do attempt to apply for licences through the Terengganu State Economic Planning Unit, but are often rejected due to overcrowding, especially within the local village, Kampung Pasir Hantu.
Nevertheless, seeing the revenue potential, these operators carry on with their plans without registering themselves as a resort with the district council or the state’s tourism board.
When contacted, the state’s tourism board similarly said there are about 50 official resorts on the Perhentian Islands but there are many more that are unregistered with the board.
A study looking into the capacity limits of accommodation on the Terengganu islands by PLANMalaysia Terengganu in 2018 revealed that most tourist areas in Perhentian, Redang, Lang Tengah, Kapas and Tenggol Islands were operating in excess capacity.
The study also revealed that the number of rooms available on almost all the areas investigated, such as Teluk Aur, Teluk Keke, Teluk Pauh and Long Beach in Perhentian and Redang, had exceeded the real carrying capacity standards for development per acre.
According to a spokesperson from PLANMalaysia Terengganu, the excessive loading on the islands could lead to serious ecological damage.
He said although the corals in these areas were categorised as in a good state, it was still in danger of “uncontrolled, excessive physical development”.Grey water seen flowing out from under a resort
Beach no longer visible
Indah Water Konsortium’s Head of Operations in Kelantan and Terengganu, Edlyn Surya Abu Bakar, pointed out that in certain locations, such as Kampung Salang and Kampung Tekek on Tioman Island, development had become so saturated that “the beach is barely visible”.