Villagers are speaking out after three companies applied to establish shrimping operations in mangrove located near to Sun Nge Bar Laing village, Kawthaung, Tanintharyi Region.
Forty two residents of five local villages signed petitions vocalizing concerns over the developments on Jan. 20. They are now being threatened by the military due to their advocacy.
“The chairman of the Su Nge Bar Laing village tract said that authorities verbally threatened to prosecute the protesters,” said a source close to the issue. “Local officials have told the protesting villagers to come and face them — but who will dare to go and deal with it now? Even the head of the Su Nge Bar Laing village has reportedly threatened to prosecute protesters.”
The mangroves are threatened by three major companies who have contracted to convert over 1,500 acres of mangrove swamp into saltwater prawn fishing farms.
The companies include Thai-Myanmar group Grand Andaman Co. Ltd — a major regional conglomerate with interests in pearl farming, mining and energy — which applied to lease 140 acres. Vietnamese company Golden Panda Co. Ltd has also submitted plans to operate farms over 606 acres of the Su Nge Bar Line mangrove forest, whilst Myanmar firm Than Pyo Thu Co. Ltd leased 874 acres in the Aw Gyi Di area.
Residents of Su Nge Bar Laing, Wah Kyun, Su Nge par Khaung, Palaw Bar Laing, and Leik Kyun villagers all claim to be affected by the development.
But the impact of mangrove destruction reaches far beyond Tanintharyi Region; Zau Lunn, a PhD candidate researching fishery development at the University of New Brunswick, says similar trends are apparent in other coastal areas, such as Ngwe Saung in Ayeyarwady and parts of Rakhine State.
“There are many, many impacts,” Zau Lunn told DVB. “The short answer is the community separated from the mangrove will face difficulties for their survival, such as opportunity loss, daily income loss, and more vulnerability to natural disaster.”
Such natural disasters include tidal waves, storm winds, and hurricanes, as well as environmental impacts such as changes in the salinity of water from wells used by local communities: mangrove forests, experts say, play a well-documented role in regulating regional climatic patterns.
“For the time being, it’s very important for the country; for natural resources, and also for the community and for the future of our country,” he said, adding that the coup has facilitated the loss of environmental professionals and expertise. “The environment is very important for the community. If the environment is lost, the community will be lost and that will become a social problem.”