Blue Tears – a concern to nature watchers

MANY Mirians and tourists to the Resort City, especially photographers, were bedazzled by the discovery of ‘Blue Tears’ — a sparkling bioluminescent — at Tusan Beach, some 40km from Miri, a couple of years ago.

Since then, the beach has gained a reputation as one of the must-visit tourist spots in Miri.

Visitors flock to Tusan Beach every day. They come with their best photography equipment — even on the darkest night — just to catch a glimpse of the sparkling blue lights from the sea. The beauty of Blue Tears, as many have described it, is rather magical.

Musa (left) with a friend during a beach cleaning exercise in conjunction with World Oceans Day.

The myth

Did you know Blue Tears had already existed in Miri waters many years ago? At the time when the phenomenon was still not fully understood, the local villagers were afraid of it.

“They called the luminescent plankton unak or the Blue Thing. And whenever the Blue Thing appeared, the fishermen would not put out to sea. They believed it was not a good omen,” environmental activist and researcher Musa Musbah told thesundaypost.

He said the villagers even considered the Blue Thing a bad thing — like a ghost light, adding that some claimed it was a ‘window to a different world’.

“Fearing for their safety, the villagers relocated from their original location by the seaside to nearer the forests inland, away from the ghost light.”

On one occasion, Musa wanted to organise an outing to collect samples offshore when Blue Tears were in full bloom but many of the fishermen he approached for boat services turned him down.

“Only one fisherman agreed to rent me his boat because the offer was too good for him to refuse but his wife was really upset. She worried about her husband’s safety,” he recalled.

Although the fisherman agreed to go with Musa, he told the latter the Blue Thing struck fear in his heart.

“The villagers are fearful to this day. I know what is causing the bloom but they choose to continue believing in the myth of the Blue Thing.

“The fisherman who was with me in the boat told me not to go near the ghost lights. People fear what they don’t understand and they take a lot convincing,” Musa said of his expedition off Tusan Beach last year.

However, as Tusan Beach has now become a popular tourist spot, the villagers are gradually moving back to their previous location in search of better business opportunities.

Samples taken by Musa clearly show tiny green algae in the water.

Close up, the algae appear spherical in shape.

A single alga consumes the nitrates produced by water-soluble fertilisers used in oil palm plantations.

Scientific truth

According to Musa, the blue phenomenon is caused by algae called dinoflagellates.

He said while people were getting excited about Blue Tears, spending hours upon hours waiting for the bloom, environmental activists and researchers are actually quite worried about the presence of the bioluminescent.

“Seawater in its natural form should be clear, if not crystal-clear. It comprises millions of micro-living cells and bacteria such as algae, phytoplankton and diatoms (a major group of algae).

“The whole ecosystem should be a balanced environment. The contaminants consisting of fertilisers, used in oil palm plantations and other farms located near rivers, enter the waterways.

“These contaminants are then washed into the sea. They produce nitrates, a source food and nutrients for the algae to feed on and grow. The water becomes very fertile for algal growth, reproduction and bloom.

“During high tide, more algae are brought inshore from the sea. After feeding on the contaminants, the algae grow in concentrated amounts and

bloom into a beautiful blue colour after being disturbed by movement of the water as what we’ve witnessed at Tusan,” he explained.

According to Musa, algae have always been part of seawater and are not a threat to marine life.

In Miri and its vicinity, Blue Tears actually exist almost everywhere — in Miri River, Sibuti River and the waters near Miri Bridge, among others.

“It depends very much on the concentration of the algae because the more concentrated they become, the more bloom they will produce.

“The contaminants and pollutants and the soluble fertilisers are factors

contributing to the changing quality of sea water. Places with beautiful Blue Tears bloom may look temptingly beautiful at night while during the day, the water actually looks green, instead of clear. We find this very worrying,” he said.

Tusan Beach has become a very popular tourist spot after the discovery
of Blue Tears offshore.

Time to worry?

On the issues surrounding Blue Tears, Musa, who is also Malaysian Nature Society Miri branch chairman, said it depends on how one looked at them.

“It’s a great thing to see — many people enjoy watching Blue Tears very much. I’ve been there too, enjoying the view. It’s very stress-relieving.

“But for people who do research on the environment, they are more worried about the phenomenon, especially the nutrients from the river which are also contaminants, polluting the seawater.

“People say ignorance is a bliss but we don’t think ignoring the main issue is good for you, me and Mother Earth.”

He said another issue is the light pollution in Miri City, which is gradually happening at Tusan Beach.

“When I say Blue Tears are actually everywhere, including Tanjong Lobang, many will be surprised. The reason why they cannot see it with their naked eyes at any place other than Tusan is that the light pollution (in the city) is getting serious.

“Light pollution, in my view, is caused by the increasing number of lights, especially light-emitting diode bulbs. But they are not so obvious as Blue Tears.”

As for Tusan Beach, Musa noted that with increasing day and weekend visitors, the wanton throwing of rubbish is becoming rampant.

“No offence meant, but more people means more rubbish. More stalls selling food, drinks and merchandise mean more rubbish produced.”

He said generally people would not think much about it but environmental activists and researchers are worried about the future of the beach and the seawater if the people continued to pollute the beach area.

“It’s time for us, as the residents of the Earth, to handle our waste better and take care of our home,” he said.

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