A new beginning for Penang
A mega engineering endeavour is set to change the southern face of the island.
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.
Mud gathering in the seabed of the inward curving shoreline of Teluk Kumbar is evident when seen from 130m above sea level.
Fisherman Shahran Abdul Khalid struggling to fetch something from his boat in the hip- deep mud in Sungai Batu, Teluk Kumbar.