Batu Ferringhi becomes ‘grey’ area

Unsavoury: The beachfront along the Batu Ferringhi tourist belt in Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: The sea in Batu Ferringhi became so polluted that it turned brackish grey, but there was no one to blame.

Instead of an emerald sea, beach- goers were greeted yesterday with cloudy water all along the 2km tourism belt.

The grey water that framed the shoreline along the stretch of luxury hotels left many tourists standing in the sand and thinking twice about taking a dip. Only a few ventured into the water or rented water scooters.

Local businessmen alerted The Star yesterday, crying of pollution and even accusing the Batu Ferringhi sewage treatment plant of spewing out filth.

A quick check, however, revealed that the water coming out of the river from the treatment plant was amazingly clearer than the sea.

Only after talking to local fishermen was the mystery, that apparently happens once every two years or so, finally solved: a combination of wind, currents and a storm in Kedah sent brackish water from Sungai Merbok’s estuary on the mainland, 25km north, funnelling directly towards Batu Ferringhi.

A tourist from Saudi Arabia, 46-year-old Muhamad Amir Yousef, said he only allowed his three children to play along the shoreline as the water was shallow and seemed cleaner.

“The water is unlike other beaches we have been to. It is cloudy and dark.

“I don’t think it is clean. I’ve warned my children not to dip their whole bodies in the water,” he said.

A local fisherman from Teluk Bahang who only wanted to be known as Khoo, 60, explained that the water came from the Sungai Merbok estuary.

Incidentally, Sungai Merbok’s water is typically a dark grey colour and its impressive 2.5km-wide river mouth is almost directly north of Batu Ferringhi.

“It is all about currents and winds. If there is a storm in the Kedah mountains, Sungai Merbok’s flow will be strong and it sends a lot of water out to sea.

“This happened two years ago and I remember a lot of floating trash came along that time,” he said.

Water sports operator Shan Prdeep, 45, believes that strong waves in the last few days contributed to the murkiness.

“The seabed here is all mud. No sand or corals. So when the waves are strong, the mud at the bottom is stirred up,” he said.

State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh agrees with Shan, pointing out that this was now the inter-monsoon period.

“The wind from the northeast is colliding with the wind from the southwest. Combine that with high tides caused by the new moon season and you get strong waves that can agitate the lower benthic zone of the sea column and make things murkier.

“It will clear up in a few days,” he said.

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