The Pacific Marine Industrial Zone is being built by the Papua New Guinea government and is expected to house up to ten tuna canneries and a fleet base that will rival anything in Asia.
Advocates of the PMIZ say it will create as many as 30,000 jobs and provide an important stream of income to PNG.
But it is being built on an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot that may not be able to handle the pressure.
Speakers:Scholastica Sarea, former school teacher in Kananam village; Frank Don, from Rempi village; Vitus Otto, Youth leader from Rempi Village; Francis Gem, from Kananam village; James Sungai, a Chief from Kananam village;
GARRETT: Madang is known as one of the prettiest towns in the Pacific. And no wonder - it sits on an island studded lagoon that is home to 700 species of coral and over 1000 species of fish. Francis Gem, comes from Kananam village, at the northern end of the lagoon just near where the PMIZ is being built.
GEM: We entirely depend on fishing as our main source of living. Our fisheremen go out fishing and when they come in our women ususally go sell these catches and we use the money to buy basic household items like kerosene, sugar soap and all this.
GARRETT: Madang already has one Tuna cannery - owned by the Philipino company RD Tuna. Papua New Guinea offers investors preferential access into lucrative tuna markets in Europe so there is strong in the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone and it will be home to up to ten more canneries.
Frank Don is from Rempi village.
DON: When you look at a major project like this with ten factories, whereas you already have one which is the fish canning and then you have the meat canning which is James Barnes, but when you have ten or more factories, that capacity I believe is going to be too much for us. The smell, the filth and the waste - how it is going to be managed is another issue.
GARRETT: You mentioned you've already got two factories here already. what is the experience with them in terms of smell and waste?
DON: Well, RD (cannery), as you were driving by, maybe you have smelled the air surrounding the factory. Its very filthy. Its very smelly. And then when you have six or ten factories all producing that kind of filth, i am pretty sure, we on the Rempi end of the project will also be getting that knid of filth coming towards us. And not forgetting our sea, our seafronts, the waste that will have to go - the mangrove system we have is already affected.
GARRETT: The Environmental Impact Statement warns oil spils and the leaching of toxic chemicals and waste from the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone are a risk for the environment of the lagoon and for human health. Francis Gem and his young son from Kananam village already have personal experience.
GEM: When RD came in, when there is oil spill into the harbour, we experienced a lot of fish dying out and, also, my boy was once bathing in the sea and he swallowed a bit of that oily seawater and, you know, he vomited blood so we need to rush him to the health centre to receive medical care. so that is our experience. That is for only one fishing project which is RD. But talking about PMIZ, if more than 10 fishing companies come into our area, then the pollution and all this will multiply so the oil spill will also multiply and that will damage all the marine resources in our lagoon.
GARRETT: Many of those marine resources are particularly vulnerable. The lagoon is home to endangered species including dugong and spinner and bridled dophins. It is also a port of call for endangered Pacific Pilot whales and green and hawksbill turtles. Many food species are filter feeders which are more readily affected by pollution and the sensitive mangrove forests are an important beeding ground for fish.
Mother, grandmother and former school teacher, Scholastica Sarea, says the women have other concerns.
SAREA: Us the mothers, are really concern of our children. That is why most of us here in this community really don't like this marine park to come.
GARRETT: What is it that you fear for your children?
SAREA: Many such things like rascolism, prostitution, rape and such activities like that.
GARRETT: What makes you think that will happen here if the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone goes ahead?
SAREA: Today, this RD is around and we are not really happy because, today, when mothers go around to that area, Vidar, there are people around there talking to them, approaching them in a way most mothers, young ladies, don't appreciate.
GARRETT: Are you saying that the people who work at the RD cannery, who come from other provinces, don't treat your people with respect?
SAREA: They don't treat our people with respect and such people like them, they will bring so many bad things inside the community.
GARRETT: While some people in the villages around the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone will benefit from new jobs, most of the people I spoke with are sceptical. Many have had jobs at the RD cannery but quit due to poor wages and conditions.
Early works on the PMIZ have already begun and Frank Don, from Rempi village, is worried about impact of the thousands of new job-seekers.
DON: You have sudden influx of people coming in, from all walks of life, all customs, all traditions throughout the country. When there is no accommodation you expect to have settlements growing up within the vicinity of the project area and we already have that coming up.
GARRETT: So what sort of problems are likely to flow from that?
DON: Social problems. You have health-related issues.
GARRETT: By that, do you mean HIV/AIDS?
DON: Yes, HIV/AIDSand other STIs. And oviously, we will have these people from overseas, especially Chinese, Asians flooding in. Definitely, we wil have cultural clash and the way the government is going, ..the government is not recognising us, they type of benfit the government should be giving to us. And then we have the issue on land that has to be sorted out.
GARRETT: Land is also one of the crucial issues in Kananam.
Vitus Otto is a youth leader and he says attitudes in the village are hardening.
OTTO: I am in the umbrella company of Kananam village. The bulk of the community, the majority of them are against the project.
GARRETT: Why do they fdeel so passionately against the project?
OTTO: The main reason is because they doesn't have any land to cultivate the crops. They see that land which the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone is going to take up, as their only land to do their gardening and look for raw materials to build their houses and so forth.
GARRETT: Unlike other Papua New Guineans people from Kananam and Rempi have very little land of their own. The land on which the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone is to be built is their ansectral land but it was leased to the Catholic Church early last century. The villagers have begun court action to get the land returned but that has not stopped the PNG government approving a new lease for the PMIZ.
Frank Don, from Rempi, is one of many people who have been calling for more consultation.
DON: The government has to halt the project and then we'll have to sort out the mess. I call it a mess because we really need that piece of land. The Kananam people need the piece of land and so are we. We need to really go in there and find out who (are) the customary landowners so that we can develop the land in a manner that is more suitable to us.
GARRETT: The calls for more consultation have been building for more than a year. At the end of April, the government buckled to pressure and held a public Forum attended by Environment Minister Benny Allen, Commerce Minister Gabriel Kapris and Attorney-General, Sir Arnold Amet who is one of the local members of parliament.
James Sungai, one of the Chiefs of Kanamam village, says the Forum did not answer his people's questions.
GRAB (in Tok Pisin)
Chief Sungai says people do not have enough deatiled information, they do not understand the Agreement in Principle signed by project proponents and they have not seen the details of the environmental plan. Chief Sungai says the government need to hold a roundtable discussion with the community before the project goes any further.