Penang’s sea spotted to be pink again

A rare sight: Pink seawater can be spotted back in Penang after another round of concentrated growth of the Noctiluca scintillans algal blooms near the coast off Teluk Bahang.

GEORGE TOWN: “Barbie pink” may be all the rage since the namesake movie came out last month, but seeing pink at sea does raise eyebrows.

If you spotted streaks of pink algae in Penang waters since Saturday, it is not a publicity stunt but rather, a non-toxic algal bloom that grows when rainy spells are followed by hot days.

Coastal fishermen, however, might get poor catches as the high ammonia content irritates fish, causing them to swim away.

Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies (Cemacs) deputy director Dr Annette Jaya Ram, who spotted the pink tide in Teluk Bahang at around 11am yesterday, said the algal bloom was garishly visible.

“I was walking along the trail, then I looked over at the beach and the pink was so visible.

“Large streaks of the algal bloom floated close to shore.

“While we cannot determine when it will happen, it has become common,” she said.

Dr Annette explained that because it rained regularly these past few days in Penang and then became sunny again, the algae appeared.

“When it rains, you get nutrients flowing from the land into the sea. Algae or plankton thrive on it and that is when you get to see it bloom like this,” she said.

While it is non-toxic, the high ammonia content drives some fish away, she added.

“This pink organism does have a stinky, ammonia smell.

“Fish will not like it as it is not natural to them and they will get away from it.

“Last night, we received videos of fish swimming all the way up to the beach, like stingrays,” she said.

Dr Annette said the pink algal blooms were not visible on Saturday, but fish swimming up the beach was an indication that the algae was probably growing profusely.

Besides being ammoniacal, she said algae in super high concentrations robbed seawater of oxygen at night when photosynthesis was not possible.

She expected the situation to last another day or two.

In April, The Star released aerial photos of the sea around Penang assailed by these thick streaks of garish pink algal blooms all around the island.

Scientists confirmed that it was non-toxic and not a threat to marine life beyond being an irritant.

They also confirmed that the algae is Noctiluca scintillans. It is not harmful to humans and fish caught around Penang was still safe to eat.

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