Malaysia; Kuantan residents wake up to a crimson tide after heavy rain

QISHIN TARIQ The Star 30 Dec 15;

KUANTAN: After a downpour the night before, seaside residents and visitors woke up to a shocking sight – the sea off Pantai Batu Hitam was a bright red, a far cry from the day when it had idyllic blue waters.

Trader Anita Awang, 38, said the sea had been a murky shade of red since morning.

“My husband thought it was just sand stirred up, but when I ran my hand through it, the water was really red,” she said.

The Kuantan-native said it was the first time she had seen such a phenomenon, adding that the colour was even more evident during high tide, around 8am.

Keropok seller Esah Awang, 68, said Pantai Batu Hitam – which translates to Black Stone Beach – would often become muddy during the monsoon season.

“But this year is worse,” said the trader who had moved to nearby Beserah over 50 years ago.

She warned that it was dangerous to swim at the beach when the water turned colour, as it was very contaminated.

A check along the Beserah-Kuantan road that runs parallel to the sea painted a similar picture of pollution along the stretch.

By around 3pm, the red tide had receded, leaving the water a muddy brown instead.

Stop Bauxite Mining Movement (Geram) chairman Ali Akbar Othman said many residents had been posting photos of the red sea to the group's Facebook group page, prompting them to investigate the incident.

“This is exactly what we’ve been warning would happen,” said Ali, referring to the outcry against bauxite mining which has seen red effluent being washed into rivers and drains near here during the rainy season.

Bauxite mining has spread to the Beserah area, and a large number of transport lorries can be seen carrying the red soil to Kuantan Port in Gebeng, less than 15km from Pantai Batu Hitam.


Tourists turn tail over red sea along the beach in Kuantan
The Star 30 Dec 15;

KUANTAN: The threat of the monsoon season is deterrent enough. Seeing the sea turn red has left business owners along Kuantan’s beaches staring at a huge blow to business.

Tomyam restaurant owner Ahmad Zawawi Mustaffa, 36, said business had improved during the school holidays, but many literally did a U-turn when they saw the red sea phenomenon.

“Orang nampak air, terus je pusing (visitors turned right around when they saw the water),” said Zawawi, whose store has a good view of the South China Sea.

He noticed the unusual colour when he was opening shop at around 8am. The water continued to turn into a murky, dirty yellow well into the afternoon.

A day-long deluge on Monday is believed to have caused bauxite dust from the many mining areas to wash into rivers leading to the sea.

Stall owner Wan Faizrul Wan Mohd Fadzil, 31, said he had seen the waters getting murky during the monsoon, but this was the first time he had seen the water go red.

“Saya tengok pun takut (Seeing it gave me chills),” he said, adding it was likely to scare tourists even more.

Grocer Mohd Idrus Hamzah, 35, said the beach was popular with families both locally and from outside the state.

The father of two said he would not let his children swim in such water, and did not expect any parents to do so either.

An owner of a seaside hotel said he saw customers playing on the beach despite the odd-coloured water.

Tourist Azmi Ghani, 47, said the sea water was much worse than when he visited just two weeks ago.

“This beach was beautiful two years ago, barely tolerable two weeks ago, and now it’s a mess,” said the businessman from Selangor.

“I won’t be coming back.”

Beserah assemblyman Andan­sura Rabu said a smaller scale incident happened in early September, when a four hours of heavy rain caused the waters near Kuantan Port to turn red.

“Where does this red come from? In the years before there was bauxite mining, the monsoon didn’t make the sea red,” he replied, when asked if it was fair to blame the phenomenon on bauxite mining.

Bauxite mining in Pahang has surged since 2014 following Indonesia’s ban on the ore exports and a weaker ringgit. Bauxite ore is refined into aluminium and it is very much in demand in China.

According to the Minerals and Geoscience Department, production in Malaysia increased more than four-fold to 962,799 tonnes in 2014 from the year before.

State public amenities and environment committee chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Soffi Abd Razak declined to comment until details were available.

The Star had previously highlighted the call by parties – both for and against bauxite mining – for a stop work of bauxite mining during the monsoon.

However, due to the continued dry weather well into December, bauxite mining has been continuing.


Pantai Batu Hitam turns into red sea
QISHIN TARIQ The Star 29 Dec 15;

KUANTAN: Seaside residents and visitors here were shocked by the transformation of Pantai Batu Hitam into a red sea, following a heavy downpour the night before.

Trader Anita Awang, 38, said the sea had been a murky shade of red since morning, prompting many of her customers to take photos of the unusual sight.

"My husband figured it was just sand stirred up, but when I ran my hand through the water it was really red, not gritty grey like when it's sand," she said.

The Kuantan-native said it was the first time she had seen such a phenomena, adding that the colour was even more evident during high tide, around 8am.

Keropok seller Esah Awang (no relation), 68, said Pantai Batu Hitam often become muddy during the monsoon season.

"Yeah, but this year is even worse," said the trader, who had moved to Beserah over 50 years ago.

She warned that it was dangerous to swim at the beach when the water turned colour, for fear of any number of contaminants.

A check by The Star along the Beserah-Kuantan road that ran parallel to the sea painted a similar picture of pollution along the stretch.

By around 3pm, the tide had receded leaving the water a muddy brown instead.

Stop Bauxite Mining Movement (Geram) chairman Ali Akbar Othman said many residents had been posting photos of the red sea to the group's Facebook group page, prompting them to investigate the incident.

"This is exactly what we've been warning would happen," said Ali, referring to the danger of bauxite being washed into rivers and drains during the rainy season.

Bauxite mining had spread to the Beserah area, and was exacerbated by the large number of transport lorries carrying the red soil to Kuantan Port, in Gebeng, less than 15km away from Pantai Batu Hitam.

Rivers, sea run red in Malaysia as bauxite exports boom
JOSEPH SIPALAN Reuters 30 Dec 15;

Rivers and the sea ran red in parts of Malaysia this week after two days of heavy rain brought an increase in run-off from the booming and largely unregulated bauxite mining industry.

Demand from China for the aluminum ingredient has fed a rapid rise in bauxite mining in the third-largest state of Pahang, in the east of peninsular Malaysia, and concern is growing about the impact on the environment.

Media on Wednesday showed images of red seas and rivers near the state capital of Kuantan, the center of the industry and the location of a port from which much of the bauxite is shipped.

Reporters said the sea were discolored along a 15 km (9 mile) stretch of coast."Of course the federal government and state government are concerned," Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told Reuters.

"There has been an ongoing discussion but unfortunately during the monsoon season things got worse. Stockpiles leach out into the sea."

In just three years, Malaysia has transformed itself from a modest supplier to the top source of the material for China.

The change came after Indonesia banned bauxite exports in early 2014, forcing China, the world's top aluminum producer, to seek supplies elsewhere.

In the first 11 months of 2015, Malaysia shipped more than 20 million tonnes of bauxite to China, up nearly 700 percent on the previous year. In 2013, it shipped just 162,000 tonnes.

Residents have complained of contamination of water sources and the destruction of their environment as mining operations remove the red earth rich in bauxite.

Wan Junaidi has told parliament there is little regulation of the industry and how it manages waste. The ministry has prepared regulations but they have yet to be adopted by the state.

Kuantan member of parliament Fuziah Salleh said it was a simple process for companies to get a license to extract laterites, basic materials for aluminum production. Once they have the licenses, they can start extracting, she said.

The state government has done little to protect the environment and residents during the industry's growth, she said.

This was despite it finding in August that levels of aluminum, mercury, arsenic and manganese in one river were at a level so high it was unusable for consumption, irrigation or recreation, she said.

Fuziah cited a report from the state's environment department, a copy of which she showed to Reuters.

"The situation is lawless," she told Reuters. "It's a free for all. Bauxite could easily be sustainable but they are doing terrible things to the environment."

Pahang's top environment official was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

Media has reported angry residents burning trucks taking bauxite to the port in protest over the environmental impact.

(Additional reporting by Rozanna Latiff and Emily Chow; Editing by Simon Webb, Robert Birsel)


'Avoid contaminated seafood'
The Star 31 Dec 15;

KUANTAN: It is best not to consume seafood obtained from bauxite-contaminated waters off Pahang.

State Fisheries Department director Adnan Hussain said water samples had been taken from the affected areas for laboratory analyses to determine the safety of the marine products.

“The results of the tests are expected to be known within two weeks. Meanwhile, we advise the public not to eat molluscs (from these areas),” he said.

He also advised against fishing activities in these areas due to the current high level of turbidity.

He said previous tests conducted by the department on the mineral content, following the murky shade of red in the rivers and sea, found that the level was not high.

Meanwhile, Pahang Department of Environment deputy director Zainal Abidin Abdullah said the red water in the rivers and sea was due to land-clearing activities leading to water run-off after the recent heavy rains.

He said the situation worsened when the surface water flow was contaminated with bauxite which had spilled on the roads while being transported.

“The increased water flow during the heavy rains also caused silting in the rivers, mixed with bauxite from the water run-off.

“All these elements then flowed into the river before ending up in the sea and the large quantity caused the red river and sea phenomenon,” he said, adding that the situation would return to normal soon.

Meanwhile, state public utilities and environment committee chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Soffi Abd Razak said the state government had taken samples from rivers affected by the phenomenon to identify the causes.

He said the investigations involving various agencies were being conducted to ensure the phenomenon did not recur in the future as Sungai Balok and Pantai Batu Hitam were not just tourist attractions but also provided revenue to the local fishermen.

“We have to carry out our investigations. For instance, Sungai Balok affects a large area and there are development and mining activities near the river.

“It is better to determine the cause so that action can be taken.

“The results of the investigation will be tabled at the state exco meeting,” he said after visiting the Sungai Balok fisherman’s jetty yesterday. — Bernama


Environment Dept begins probe on Balok red sea
T.N.ALAGESH New Straits Times 30 Dec 15;

KUANTAN: The state Environment Department has began their probe to identify the cause of the red sea phenomenon between Pantai Batu Hitam and Sungai Pengorak in the state capital.

A spokesman from the department said officers from the Environment Department and the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) were sent to collect water samples from the sea and also nearby rivers, which had turned murky on Tuesday.

"Our focus is to identify the cause that resulted the sea to turn red.

During the monsoon season, it is common for the rain water to flow in rivers and streams on its way to the sea.

"Our officers will send the water samples to the state Chemistry Department for test and check if it is contaminated with radioactive materials," he said.

State Public Amenities and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Soffi Abdul Razak was present at the Balok jetty today to met the Environment Department officers after they completed collecting the water samples at Sungai Balok.

He later attended a closed-door briefing with representatives from DID, Fisheries Department, Land and Minerals Department, and the Environment Department.

The red sea near Balok here which made headlines on Tuesday morning was believed to have been triggered by the extensive bauxite mining activities.

Heavy rain for more than 24 hours since Sunday was alleged to have washed the bauxite residue from the stockpile near Kuantan Port into the nearby river, which flows to the sea.

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