A new be­gin­ning for Pe­nang

A mega en­gi­neer­ing en­deav­our is set to change the south­ern face of the is­land.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INSIGHT - By ARNOLD LOH star2@ thes­tar. com. my

ANY proud Pe­nan­gite will tell you that the End of the World is on their is­land. And so is the Be­gin­ning of the World.

Teluk Ba­hang in the north­west­ern cor­ner of the is­land is the des­ig­nated “End”. Batu Maung, near the south­east­ern edge, is con­sid­ered the “Be­gin­ning”.

At the round­about in the one­horse town of Teluk Ba­hang, an eatery called End of the World Restau­rant proudly pre­serves the town’s so­bri­quet. There was once also a float­ing seafood restau­rant in Batu Maung named af­ter its moniker as the start­ing point.

While Pe­nan­gites could be suf­fer­ing from is­land fever, there could be an ex­pla­na­tion for their small world- view. The is­land had been grow­ing lop­sid­edly for cen­turies.

“For many decades, Batu Maung marks the be­gin­ning of the ur­ban part of Pe­nang. The is­land’s flat­land, stretch­ing along the east­ern and north­ern coast, is where most ur­banised Pe­nan­gites live – hence their “World”.

“By road, Batu Maung and Teluk Ba­hang mark the is­land’s ur­ban bound­aries,” said lo­cal his­to­rian and blog­ger Ti­mothy Tye.

Be­yond th­ese two points, along the east­ern and south­ern edges of the is­land, time has stood still for gen­er­a­tions.

Any­one driv­ing from Teluk Ba­hang to Ba­lik Pu­lau will find the cen­turies- old road so nar­row and the bends so sharp that they would be wide- eyed and hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing af­ter cross­ing paths with a lorry or bus.

To the south and west be­yond Batu Maung, the round- is­land roads are equally hair- rais­ing.

“If Batu Maung is called the Be­gin­ning, then I know what it feels like to go be­fore the be­gin­ning,” smiled Pe­nan­gite War­ren Tan, 28, a drone cam­era pi­lot with Se Vena Net­works.

Tan is on a mis­sion to take aerial pho­tos of the state and com­pile all the im­ages into a book.

“But I went at the wrong time. The sea at low tide over there is an ugly mess of mud.”

The drone pi­lot vis­ited Sun­gai Batu in Teluk Kum­bar, about 5km be­yond the Be­gin­ning of the World re­cently to cap­ture im­ages of the is­land’s south­ern coast­line but en­coun­tered mud flats that marred the scenery.

“I want peo­ple to see all the best parts of Pe­nang from about 500m above sea level but I’ll have to come back here to fly again when the tide is high­est so the mud can’t be seen,” said Tan.

The pro­fu­sion of mud is due to the in­wardly curved coast­line of the is­land’s south. This shape ef­fec­tively serves as a wave breaker, caus­ing the sea within the in­ward curve to have gen­tle cur­rents which en­cour­age sed­i­men­ta­tion.

It is not just ugly; the mud flats along the south­ern coast­line have kept the area’s fish­er­men crip­pled for decades. When the tide re­cedes, their moored boats will be stranded on the mud and it be­comes im­pos- sible to go out to sea.

Sea tide changes ev­ery six hours, so the lives of the fish­er­men here are bound by a lim­it­ing timetable.

“We have to go out with the high tide and we must come back with it. If we miss the tide com­ing back, we must wait an­other six hours un­less we land far from our usual berthing places,” said Shahran Ab­dul Khalid, 52, from Sun­gai Batu.

Wad­ing 10m into the mud flats to fetch some­thing from his boat, Shahran demon­strated that mud was hip- deep and down­right dif­fi­cult to tra­verse. En­ter the fu­ture. A mega en­gi­neer­ing en­deav­our is com­ing up for the area. All along the 10km shore­line, dredgers will scrape away the mud down to a depth of be­tween 1m and 2m.

“We are go­ing to make a chan­nel about 200m to 300m wide that will stay sub­merged no mat­ter the tide. It will be the first time such a sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment has ever hap­pened here,” said Pe­nang Task­force for Fish­er­man Is­sues chair­man Ab­dul Malik Abul Kas­sim, who is also Batu Maung assem­bly­man.

This chan­nel is part of plans to re­claim two is­lands off the coast. Mea­sur­ing 930ha and 566ha each, th­ese new is­lands will fi­nance the RM27­bil Pe­nang Trans­port Mas­ter Plan ( PTMP), which has been la­belled “a five- in- one pub­lic trans­port so­lu­tion in­volv­ing light rail tran­sit or mono­rail, cata­ma­ran or wa­ter taxis, buses, taxis and ca­ble cars.”

With the newly deep­ened chan­nel, PTMP pro­ject de­liv­ery part­ner SRS Con­sor­tium will also build four fish­er­men’s wharves that will add form and func­tion to the area.

“The wharves will have float­ing pon­toons for fish­ing boats to berth, store rooms, retail cor­ners for fish­mon­gers to sell freshly caught fish and many other fa­cil­i­ties,” said Ab­dul Malik, who is also the state ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil­lor for Do­mes­tic Trade and Con­sumer Affairs.

There will even be slip ways for boat re­pairs and main­te­nance, mul­ti­pur­pose halls and an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fice for the fish­er­men’s as­so­ci­a­tions.

“The four wharves will be spread along the 10km coast­line to serve the fish­er­men in all vil­lages, and we are also plan­ning an iconic wharf,” said Ab­dul Malik, adding that the wharves would be sited in Per­matang Da­mar Laut, Teluk Kum­bar, Sun­gai Batu and Ger­tak Sang­gul.

Tak­ing a page from de­vel­oped coun­tries with aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing fish­ing wharves, he said this new wharf will ful­fil tourism needs for a place to feast on seafood and en­joy the de­lights of sea- far­ing ad­ven­tures like ex­plor­ing Pu­lau Kendi and Pu­lau Ri­mau in the hori­zon.

“I have per­son­ally fished in the sea south of Pe­nang and it was a rich ex­pe­ri­ence. We even mapped out the fish­er­men’s se­cret spots,” Ab­dul Malik smiled.

He was pleased to dis­cover that the fish­er­men mostly went be­yond the ar­eas which were ear­marked for recla­ma­tion.

“They are skilled to find drop- offs rich in fish sev­eral kilo­me­tres from the shore and few fish­er­man would scour the mud flats for fish,” Ab­dul Malik added.

— Drone pho­tog­ra­phy: Se Vena Net­works

Mud gath­er­ing in the seabed of the in­ward curv­ing shore­line of Teluk Kum­bar is ev­i­dent when seen from 130m above sea level.

— WAN MO­hiZAN WAN hUS­SEiN / The Star

Fish­er­man Shahran Ab­dul Khalid strug­gling to fetch some­thing from his boat in the hip- deep mud in Sun­gai Batu, Teluk Kum­bar.

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