Pahang coast affected by bauxite mining ‘doomed for three years’, says scientist

A fisherman along Pantai Balok, Kuantan. An expert has said marine life in the area will eventually die due to bauxite contamination. — Malay Mail pic
A fisherman along Pantai Balok, Kuantan. An expert has said marine life in the area will eventually die due to bauxite contamination. — Malay Mail pic

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PETALING JAYA, Jan 3 — The bauxite-contaminated red sea off the Pahang coastal area is bound to be a “dead sea” for up to three years.

Malaysian Society of Marine Sciences chairman Dr Harinder Rai Singh said the contamination would be fatal to marine life. 

Harinder, who is advising the environment department on the marine ecology affected by the bauxite contamination in Kuantan, said the contamination would harm the breathing system of sea creatures.

“It affects all forms of life, from the planktons to the top carnivores in the area, even the marine mammals,” said Harinder, who is also a marine expert at the Malaysia National Oceanographic Data Centre.

“For example, these sediments will clog the gills of the fish and the breathing system of the clams. That is when all the marine life will start dying and it will be a dead zone.”

He said experts were in the midst of ascertaining how much longer the marine life in the area could survive, and tests were being conducted daily.

“We are comparing the samples we collect daily to see how much damage is done per day. Only then can we tell the extent of harm caused to the organisms,” he said. 

The bauxite contamination became the talk of the country when Pantai Batu Hitam near the Kuantan port, turned into a sea of red this week due to the bauxite mining areas nearby.

Harinder, who is working with a panel of experts to gauge the severity of the contamination, said they were also ascertaining how long bauxite sediments would remain at the beach.

“What is certain is this beach would be infertile for at least two to three years depending on the government’s clean up plans,” he said.

“While it is possible for marine life to breed in the area after three years, they would still be in a polluted habitat.”

Harinder said the organisms would adapt to the waters but the number of species in the area would be fewer and toxin would still be present in their system.

He said the damage would not stop there as the toxin absorbed by marine life would then be passed on in the food chain.

He said the department was also conducting tests at water catchment areas near Kuantan Port to determine if it was polluted with bauxite.

“It is too early to say how severe the overall situation is in the affected areas as we are still in the midst of collecting more marine and water samples,” said Harinder.

While Utusan Malaysia had in a report yesterday said the Cabinet had decided to temporarily halt bauxite mining, a spokesman from the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry declined to confirm the matter saying the ministry would make an announcement on the matter tomorrow. 

Malay Mail had on Saturday reported Pahang state public utilities and environment committee chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Soffi Abd Razak saying illegal bauxite mining was the cause of the red sea phenomenon.

He said a recent check showed legal mines in the state adhered to the state government’s regulations and there were no indication of them contributing to the problem.

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