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Photographer's Note

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.

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Additional Photos by David Astley (banyanman) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1237 W: 108 N: 2568] (7789)
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