BALIK PULAU: Raw piggery waste has polluted the 1km beach of Gertak Sanggul, one of the most remote beaches on Penang island reachable by car.
Because it is a sheltered bay, marine biologists warn that extreme bacterial blooms can infect Gertak Sanggul’s seafood with harmful pathogens, from the salmonella bacteria to E-Coli and even the Hepatitis A virus.
Without strong tidal currents of the open sea, the grey sludge piles up on the sandy beach, while the bay’s water is turbid grey.
Villagers in this southwestern end of the island contacted The Star in Penang, appealing for their plight to be highlighted.
They claimed that about three months ago, at least one of the two pig farms in the foothills had been releasing raw waste into a stream that flows into the bay.
“Our bay is sheltered from open sea currents, so the waste takes a long time to disappear.
“When our fishermen come back, they end up washing their boats in grey water that smells of pig dung.
“Their bodies itch terribly after that,” said villager K.H. Cham, 55, whose husband is a fisherman.
Cham said after she and other villagers alerted the state government last month, officials from the Department of Environment arrived.
“We stopped seeing pig dung on our beach for a few weeks but now the problem is back,” she said.
It is learnt that there are two pig farms in Gertak Sanggul and they have a combined pig population of about 1,000.
Cham said she knew the farmers but did not confront them about the pig waste.
“We complained to our village head, but he wasn’t able to do anything.
“We are not trying to give the farmers trouble. Who wants to do that? But we can’t just let our beach be destroyed by pig dung,” she said.
Marine biologist Prof Dr Zulfigar Yasin, from Universiti Sains Malaysia, said it was “faecal contamination at its worst”.
“It is a sheltered bay with mild currents. It is shallow with a small volume of water, so the faecal matter will be so concentrated that it will create bacterial blooms,” he said.
He said all shellfish, from clams to shrimps, would feed on the pig dung and absorb the deadly pathogens.
“In the 90s, the smell of pig dung permeated the air at Penang International Airport, especially on wet mornings. I wonder how many Penangites remember that.
“Many of the pig farms are centralised in areas on the mainland now, so I am shocked to see pig dung still appearing on our island’s beach. The state government really has to handle this.
“Pig farms need to be centralised and convert to closed systems. When they are clustered, there will be an economy of scale for them to share a waste treatment system,” said Dr Zulfigar.
State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said the state Department of Environment was aware of the pollution and had met the pig farmers previously.
“We will follow up on the villagers’ plea,” he said.