I was flying from Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei) to Kota Kinabalu (Sabah) in July last year when I spotted this startling sight from the aircraft window. A river was disgorging black stuff into the South China Sea and ‘polluting’ a wide area of the ocean. I had seen blackwater in peat swamps before, but as this is an oil producing area I wondered if it was some kind of oil spill.
Having a keen interest in the preservation of the environment, as soon as I landed in KK, I emailed the photograph to a friend who is a member of one of the environmental NGOs in Sabah. I asked him whether he thought it was blackwater from the peat swamps, but he thought it looked more like an oil spill, so he sent it on to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment for investigation.
A few months later, the Ministry responded saying they couldn’t determine the location of the river, and therefore couldn’t do anything about it. This was despite the fact that I had advised them it was exactly 12 minutes flying time out from KK in a Boeing 737 flying on a dead straight line between BSB and KK.
So I sent the picture to a fellow TEer who I knew lived in Sabah (rabani) and asked if he could identify the location. He came back straightaway and provided me with a satellite map downloaded from the Internet showing the exact location of the river (I wonder why the Ministry couldn’t have done that?)
Bani advised that the area was called Kimanis Bay and the river was Sungai Binsuluk. Bani also thought it looked more like an oil spill because he had heard of a similar situation a few years back up on the Kudat peninsula, near the seaside village of Kampong Minyak, where oil had been allowed to leak from an old oil reserve which was no longer economical or profitable for the oil company concerned.
I sent the exact satellite coordinates that Bani had provided back to my friend to pass onto the Ministry. That was over four months ago and we still haven’t heard anything back from them. So the question “Is this blackwater or an oil spill?" remains unanswered.
[Note added later: Michael Lo comments below that he believes this is blackwater from the peat swamps and not an oil spill, and is therefore a natural phenomenon. For the sake of our planet I do hope he is right]
Technically this image is not the best, as shooting through an aircraft window is always problematic, especially when shooting at an angle as in this case. I adjusted levels to remove some of the haze, and ran it through NeatImage to remove as much of the noise as I could, and then sharpened.
Critiques | Translate
jussipee (10) 2006-04-01 1:23
What kind of place is our planet after 100 years? Nobody don't care, we don't live here then.
Its very sad, and its same in everywhere, also in overdeveloped countries, Europe, USA,... Awakening is too slow.
Looks like nobody don't take responsibility about our planet.
But you try, thanks David
samrat_roy1 (697) 2006-04-01 1:24
nice shot and even better note. it reflects the sorry state that our world is in. it seems that the world belongs to aliens and not human beings. the situation is quite grave, and nobody seems to spare any thoughts (expect few like you). to satisfy their selfish needs, people are hell bent on destroying the ecological balance of the earth. god bless them!
i hope that other TE members will take note of this picutre and spread the strong message of saving our dear own earth.
good work. keep it up
simplyoga (6484) 2006-04-01 1:31
Thanks for sharing this photo...
When I first saw this photo, I became so afraid, thinking about the future of our planet earth ??
A very good photograph.
choon102 (35) 2006-04-01 3:26
i feel ashame at my own government who doesn't pay much attention of the environment protection. i seen the similiar case before (also near KK) in the flight but this one is the worst case i ever seen.
this picture should pass to the ministry of environmental in kuala lumpur since Sabah government didn't take any action.
MichaeLo (713) 2006-04-01 7:35
Nice arial photography. In fact that is not pollution. Its the blackwater river empty itself into the sea.
Blackwater is very common in Borneo where the water is very black & reddish colored. It is very acidic due to the decomposition of the organic material in the peat swamp near the coastal area of Borneo. I have seen this kind of rivers in many areas of Sarawak & Kalimantan of Borneo. It is a natural & not polluted blackwater.
rabani (9645) 2006-04-02 20:58
It has been that long. 4 months & nothing happened. Either it is an oil spill or blackwater, someone who knows better and the authority to do something about it, needs to get there.
The water is black/brown or red comes "with" or along the river which produces the chemicals which make the water dark/red in color. But if you were to visually follow the river upstream from the estuary, the water along the mangrove lined river is blue and not black or dark. So whatever is clouding the river mouth is coming from something in the river mouth itself. It is even slowly moving up river too.
Regret that authorities in this island think nothing of this or think it is just a natural phenomenon without bothering to really look into it. Guess someday, Borneo is going to be another Easter Island.
kclai (2267) 2006-04-02 21:39
Welcome back with such interesting image.
It's nice to see TEers "coordinating" with each other to "solve" such BIG question.
Whether its an oil spill or a blackwater, we need a gurantee answer from the ministry, rather than sitting onto it with any assurance to the public.
It's a norm that we, public came across such and certain problems, and get them to the table of the ministry and later found out that there's no reply or action after such a long wait. And whether they have worked on the investigation or simply "dumb" it to the tray, we won't know.
Just a simple example. A water leaking from a public pipes. Complains have been fed to the authority in a second but it takes days for the authority to get it rectify before more water is been wasted. And you know what, David, the authority have advised us to save water and campaign have been launched by the authority for such awareness. But didn't they know that, THEY are the ONE whom are really got the things done first before geeting the public to act for their "behalf". What a shame!
Good day, David.
capthaddock (28790) 2006-04-03 10:23
Hi David - the aereal image quality is a s good as it gets, and I like the nice even diagonal, once again top quality note, I think Michael is right, it's the acidic tannins that give the river a tea colour, Ive seen similar aerael shots of the Amazon, where black tributaries make an interesting effect as they converge with the muddy brown main river.
kensimage (8561) 2006-04-04 11:49
Hi David--you've captured something very interesting, whether it's natural or not. It's suspicious that the Ministry won't give you an answer. But my guess is that it's from peat swamps, because (1) the tiny tributary at lower right is also dark, and (2) the black looks somehow mixed with the water and not lying on the surface--it spreads out so evenly, like it's diffusing rather than drifting. I hope you find out the truth. Regards, Ken.
elmec (12210) 2006-04-04 13:56
This photo id so bad suprise!
I hope it couldn't be right about the oil ... about photo - very good work, very good frame and composition
gaby (19819) 2006-04-05 16:22
David bonsoir - nice to meet you on TE - very interesting shot and note - I like your fight - congratulations my friend
Ramy (773) 2006-04-07 9:56
This is a very well taken shot. The color contrast and sharpness of the picture are stunning. Its a sad thing to see how humans are destroying nature. Well done.
Kenny10pin (19301) 2006-04-07 10:09
great shot, i like the timing of thi shot, but it is a shame they didnt do anything about it, well done though
pastadog (13111) 2006-04-11 15:37
Hi David, the photo and the note are very interesting, I hope it's a natural phenomenon. The compo is very good with the long lines of shore, river and stream and the big black splash on bottom grabbing attention. In addition I found potential for a crop version. TFS, Daniel
fireflyz (2097) 2006-04-20 12:42
Thank you for this conscience post and a wonderful note! Considering you were in a plane, you composed and captured this shot very nicely! As for whether it's oil or not, I personally guess it's not, because usually oil spills with this kinds of light would reflect a spectrum of colors on the surface and wouldn't mix up with water like this. however, the fact that officials keeping mum on this it makes one wonder. We know how hard it can be to get the truth out of government officials (everywhere), so thanks for trying! :)
- Copyright: David Astley (banyanman) (7789)
- Genre: Places
- Medium: Color
- Date Taken: 2005-07-30
- Categories: Nature
- Camera: Nikon D100, Nikkor AF-S 24-120/3.5-5.6G ED
- Exposure: f/9.0, 1/250 seconds
- Photo Version: Original Version, Workshop
- Date Submitted: 2006-04-01 0:42
- Favorites: 1 [view]