THE sandy beach of Tanjung Bungah along the island’s tourism belt has been marred by thousands of clumps of pale grey marine clay.
This is causing alarm among locals who fear that extensive reclamation in Penang island’s north coastline could be spoiling the beaches.
Videos of the clay, initially thought to be strangely malleable rocks, are making waves among netizens.
Three videos taken by a foreign visitor are shared in social activist Anil Netto’s blog.
In the videos, beach-goers expressed alarm over the phenomena and even wondered if the lumps were semi-hardened cement.
A check by The Star at low tide yesterday confirmed that thousands of clay lumps were washed up onto the beach about 300m from Flamingo Hotel by the Beach.
From the size of bricks and fists to small pebbles, the lumps break apart easily and have a texture similar to modelling clay.
They have no odour beyond a mild smell of the sea and were found only along about a 100m-stretch of the beach.
In his blog, Anil said the lumps could be marine clay found at the bottom of the sea.
“These could have been dislodged when sand on the seabed were sucked out or something else could have dislodged and stirred them to the surface,” he wrote.
He also believed the marine clay could be the result of land reclamation “which has been going on in a big way since the 1990s”.
Confirming the lumps were marine clay, geologist Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Ibrahim Komoo from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said the lumps could also contain sand and grit.
Dr Ibrahim said the clay fragments were from layers of marine clay sediment lying in the seabed at depths of 5m to 10m, not far from many shorelines.
“These deposits could have been disturbed by nature such as strong waves or dislodged by human activity.
“But it is harmless to marine life as it is part of the natural environment too,” he explained.