KAMUNTING: One of the country's largest firefly colonies in Kampung Dew, Sungai Sepetang here, is in danger of disappearing because of the clearing of mangrove forests, development and pollution.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia field officer Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman said large tracts of mangrove forests, especially downstream of Sungai Sepetang, had been cleared to make way for prawn farming. "Complaints to the authorities have fallen on deaf ears," he said, adding that development upstream of the river compounded the threat facing the nocturnal creatures.
Persatuan Kelip-Kelip Cahaya Alam Kampung Dew secretary Shukor Ishak said there were at least 70 prawn farms at the rivermouth.
"Mangrove forests are the habitat of fireflies. With their removal, fireflies no longer have a place to breed," he told the New Straits Times.
He said fireflies concentrated along a 12km stretch of Sungai Sepetang, from the jetty to the rivermouth.
"They are drawn to the stretch, as there is a good mix of freshwater and seawater." A native of Kampung Dew, Shukor, 46, said back in the day, fishermen returning to the jetty were greeted by fireflies' brilliant flashes.
"Now, the lights are dimmer." Besides the destruction of mangrove forests, he said, charcoal factories along the river contributed to the depleting population.
"These four factories, which operate round the clock, spew smoke, affecting the air quality. This 'chokes' the fireflies."
He said the association was working with non-governmental organisations to ensure the survival of the firefly population.
"We have begun planting berembang trees," he said, noting that since last year, more than 500 such trees had been planted along the 12km stretch.
The firefly colony here gained prominence in 2000 and drew international attention five years later.
Last year, the sanctuary saw more than 14,000 visitors. Meor Razak appealed to the authorities to ensure the survival of the area's firefly population.
"As mangrove forests are fireflies' natural habitat, no project should be approved in such areas."
He said he hoped the state authorities would step in and protect the firefly population.