Seeing red over dying greens

Middle Bank at low tide as seen from a hill on the island, while the brown outcropping of land on the left is the Jelutong landfill. The Sky Cab is expected run from this point to the mainland. Photo: CHARLES MARIASOOSAY/The Star

Being too close to the ground can make it hard for people to see theforest for the trees. But step back 500m above sea level, and the situation can become clearer.

A drone camera pilot who is compiling a book filled with aerial photographs of Penang was disheartened when he sent his drone camera 2km out to sea to capture images of Middle Bank.

“It is not as green as previous photographs. If you are walking on the seagrass bed, things might look fine. But seen from the sky, the grass looks like it’s thinning.

“There is much more sand than grass in the pictures,” said Warren Tan from Se Vena Networks Sdn Bhd, who launched his drone camera from Karpal Singh Drive yesterday at 10am when the tide was lowest.

Based on his images, he said the thinning pattern seemed more pronounced near the Sungai Pinang river mouth and pointed to the possibility that human pollution flowing out was hurting the seagrass.

A fishing boat zooms past the seagrass bed on Middle Bank in this aerial shot courtesy of Se Vena Networks Sdn Bhd.

Tan gave The Star his photographs and video footages, taken at heights of between 2m and 500m above sea level, and hoped environmentalists would be able to use the images to identify the problem.

Penangites had a scare last year because there was talk that this area would be reclaimed, though the plans are shelved for now.

Environmentalist and Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu brought several reporters by boat to the spot in April 2015 to document the abundant marine life living there.

But more challenges for this second largest seagrass bed in peninsular Malaysia may be on the way.

A source has revealed that Penang Sky Cab, the proposed island-mainland cable car ride, may cut across Middle Bank.

File pic of photographers snapping closeups of sea anemones living in Middle Bank. Photo: LO TERN CHERN/The Star

While the gondolas coasting overhead will not harm the seagrass, the construction of pylons and cable towers are another matter.

“Imagine hovering above at 90m during low tide. With binoculars, you might be able to spot the large sea anemones and crabs living on it.

“But if the pylons are built too close, the construction might cause pollution till the seagrass bed disappears,” the source said.

Middle Bank is about the same age as Penang Bridge — 31 years old.

It was created with undersea material dredged during the bridge’s construction in 1985.

The grass is obviously much thinner compared to its condition in April last year.

The bank is visible from the shore for about four to six hours a day when the tide is lowest.

At high tide, it is between 1m and 2m underwater.

Sunlight can still penetrate this depth and thus create an ideal environment for a seagrass bed to form and support a wealth of marine life.

Even dugongs were reported to feed on the seagrass. - By The Star

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