Climate Witness: Pak Mat, Malaysia | WWF

Climate Witness: Pak Mat, Malaysia

Posted on 02 March 2010    
Pak Mat, Climate Witness
Pak Mat, Climate Witness
My name is Muhammad bin Mat Zin. I am 60 years old. I was born in Kemasek, a small fishing town in the state of Terengganu, Malaysia. I have lived here for all my life. I was a good student but I had to leave school after Standard 6 (12 years old) because my family was too poor to pay for my education. After leaving school, I became a fisherman. Now, I’m also a farmer.

I have 8 children; the youngest is 15 years old and is still in school. My wife is a full time housewife.

Rainfall in the past 3 to 4 years has been unpredictable, especially so in 2009. Before, the rainy season in Terengganu would be from October to December but now, you can never tell. The rain falls when it shouldn’t, and when it should be the rainy season, it doesn’t rain at all. This year the rain is more frequent (2 or 3 times per week). When the day is hot, it becomes really hot. There are no more cool days.  

Storms are also occurring earlier than they should. Before, you expected to see big storms only in January, which was normal because of the monsoon season. This year, an especially big storm happened towards the end of October.

We used to be able to plan our outings to sea - we knew when to expect the monsoon rains. During that time, we did go out to sea and spent our time repairing our fishing nets instead. Now we cannot really predict the start of the monsoon. It makes it difficult for us to plan our activities. Our income is being affected. As a result, many of us have to find an alternative source of income, by working as construction labourers, cleaning fruit orchards and so forth.  

Three years ago, I built a small brick house by the beach. The water’s edge (high tide mark) was then about 70 feet from my house. Each year, the water’s edge moved closer to where my house stood. One night in 2009, after a big storm, the sea water washed away the land on which my house was standing, and half of the structure eventually collapsed. My house was destroyed. My neighbour's house has also been damaged by the beach erosion. Soon all the other houses nearby are likely to suffer the same fate. I lost about RM5000 (USD 1,480) when my house was damaged.

I also noticed changes in the sea. The sea can be quite rough now. Waves are bigger. The sea is usually rough around November and December due to the Northeast Monsoon. But now the seas are rough as early as October. During the monsoon, the normally rough seas can be unusually calm as well. This year, in the middle of November, when the sea should be rough because of the monsoon, it is instead very calm, despite storms and heavy rain on land. I find this very strange. Like yesterday for example, the sea looked calm like it was in May.

I also noticed that the high tide is higher than normal, and the low tide is lower than normal. Really low tides usually occur early in the year around March and the later part of the year, around November and December. Now, I start to see really low tides as early as September.

When I go out to sea, I notice that many fish species I used to catch before can hardly be found anymore. For example, “ikan gelama” (jewfish) which used to be abundant, can hardly be found now. Other examples include “ikan kebasi” (chacunda shad) and “ikan bayan” (parrotfish).

The pattern of the sea currents have also changed. For example, in December we should be experiencing the northeast current which runs from November until April. But now it is still the southwest current that is flowing. Southwest currents should be from May to September. However in May this year, when it should be the southwest current, it was the northeast current. I think this “haywire” current has affected the fish catch as the currents no longer bring in the fish.

I have noticed that there are more and more raptors around these parts. They are common in February, March September and October and fly in flocks. This is a recent occurrence. There are also more hornbill sightings but I think this could be due to forest clearing. Several bird species are gone from the area as well. For example, what the locals call “burung perkok” is completely gone.


Scientific review

Reviewed by: Faizal Parish, Malaysia

The observations of Pak Mat for Terengannu are generally consistent with the predictions for changes in weather patterns and increased climate variability as a result of global climate change. The reduced intensity of the North east monsoon observed by Pak mat is linked to the documented steady rise in sea surface temperatures in the South China Sea over the past 90 years which directly reduced monsoon wind speed and intensity.

In contrast increased sea surface temperatures lead to an increased intensity of tropical typhoons in the pacific and south china sea in the period July-October. The severe storm in 2009 mentioned by Pak Mat may have been associated with the intense 2009 typhoon season which led to severe damage and loss of life in several countries around the south china sea.

Observations with less or no support in literature
The changes observed in currents may be linked to changes in weather patterns; the observed changes in fish populations could be linked to changes in currents or to fishing practices. There is no evidence of fundamental changes in tidal patterns – and extreme tides would normally be predicted to be in March and September associated with global spring tide peaks. Earlier observed ( by Pak Mat) high tides in November may have been associated with stronger monsoonal winds. Migration seasons of raptors in Malaysia have always been March-April and September-October. The recent observations by Pak mat of this event may be due to a local change in route relating to weather or land use changes.

Based on the information provided the information onn reduced intensity of the NE Monsoon and the increased variability of weather and increased storm frequency outside of monsoon season are consistent with the predicted and observed climate impacts in the region.

  • Yi Liua, , , Zicheng Penga, Tegu Chenb, Gangjian Weic, Weidong Sunc, Ruoyu Suna, Jianfeng Hea, Guijian Liua, Chen-Lin Choud and Robert E. Zartmane 2008. The decline of winter monsoon velocity in the South China Sea through the 20th century: Evidence from the Sr/Ca records in corals. Global and Planetary Change Volume 63, Issue 1, Pages 79-85

All articles are subject to scientific review by a member of the Climate Witness Science Advisory Panel.
Pak Mat, Climate Witness
Pak Mat, Climate Witness
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