AND the dolphins did come. That was one of the things we had hoped to see when we paddled our kayaks around Penang island.
It was a circumnavigation of around 90km that took four days and three nights, Nov 15 to 18.
Our main sponsor was the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MOTAC) and it was a tourism exploration mission which we called the Penang Round-Island Kayak Thing (PRIKT).
We, seven kayakers, began from Golden Sands Resort in Batu Ferringhi.
It was while we were negotiating the turn around the Gurney Drive reclamation area that we saw a large pod of dolphins, rolling and even jumping clear out of the water.
They were so playful, but I think they were a little nervous of our kayaks.
The nearest I could ever get to one while paddling was maybe 5m. Only when they were too far for us to photograph them that they jumped out of the water.
Occasionally, dead dolphins were washed up to shore in the past and we received reports of how the carcasses showed signs that they were probably cut by boat propellers. Perhaps that was why the dolphins did not dare let us get close to them.
The best thing I remembered about where the dolphins frolicked was how beautifully emerald the water was.
The sand dredgers were busily pumping sand into the reclamation area, but the sea showed none of the feared signs of pollution. And the dolphins obviously did not complain.
But we did see pollution later and it was on the eastern side of the island, facing Butterworth.
We had hoped to paddle to Chew Jetty and enjoy the view of it from the sea and maybe even order durian puffs from one of the shops.
But when we got there...ugh...the water there was terrible, with dark clumpsof I dare not say what floating around everywhere.
And the pollution that pained me the most was at the southwestern tip of our island, a place I have come to call Plastic Beach.
The beauty of the beach blew us away as we paddled near. It was isolated from the rest of the island, with the nearest road or trail to it at least 2km away.
But when we landed and made camp, the continuous sight of plastic waste washed ashore gradually eroded our delight of being on a beach that hardly sees human presence.
Strong king tides push all manner of plastic waste up the beach and even intothe fringes of the woods.
For untold years, the tides wash up thousands of plastic bottles, food packaging and every type of plastic trash imaginable.
We humans are harming the seven seas, and Plastic Beach is a powerful reminder of how much waste we dump into the oceans.
I feel an incredible desire to organise a campaign for 100 volunteers to visit Plastic Beach to clean it up.
If we check the expiry dates printed on some of the drink bottles and food packaging washed ashore, we might be feeling remorse over how much plastic there is.
We did find beauty and delight during our round-island mission.
The dolphins were glorious, for sure, and also the little Pulau Tikus off Tanjung Bungah (the actual island, not the upper middle class suburb along Burma Road).
Spending the night in Pantai Kerachut was wondrous, though the park’s facilities are in desperate need of upkeep.
The sheltered and calm stretch of sea from Teluk Kumbar to Gertak Sanggul was a delight to paddle.
But while we will treasure the pretty memories, it is of greater importance to highlight the pollution we saw.
Penang is still a beautiful place with great tourism potential, but its environment is fragile and both the community and the government must strive toconserve Penang’s beauty.