Was Gurney Drive siltation caused by 2004 tsunami?


One of the most ‘thought-provoking’ moments at the recent E&O forum was when a consultant said the siltation at Gurney Drive near the Phase 1 land reclamation for the Seri Tanjung Pinang project in Tanjung Tokong was caused by the 2004 tsunami.

But according to a scientist, an earlier study on coastal zone management of Penang, commissioned by Jabatan Pengajian dan Saliran (JPS) or the Department of Drainage and Irrigation (DID) entitled “Integrated Shoreline Management Plan for Penang 2010”, concluded after their modelling studies, that the main cause of the siltation of Gurney Drive was the land reclamation of Tanjung Tokong.

Another consultant at the forum suggested that the Tanjung Tokong fisher-folk who stood to lose their livelihoods should consider opening sea-food restaurants in the area. Other proposals including allocating land for aquaculture and other forms of compensation.

Himanshu Bhatt wrote the following for fz.com which captures some of the issues surrounding the Seri Tanjung Pinang Phase 2 land reclamation:

GEORGE TOWN (Sept 12): In 2005, soon after a massive reclamation was completed along the Tanjung Tokong seafront, Penangites began noticing tidal changes and ugly mudflats on the once- scenic Gurney Drive shoreline nearby.

The project had been abandoned for six years after the 1998 Asian financial crisis, but was revived when Eastern and Oriental Bhd (E&O) took over with a handsome new plan for the 240-acre site.

The development was named Sri Tanjung Pinang Phase I (STP1), and is today famous for its beautiful-looking Straits Quay marina. A total of 1,300 families now reside there.

While the real cause of the severe damage done to Gurney Drive is debated, concerns among locals have ignited again.

This is because a whole new reclamation plan, this time covering a gigantic 891 acres, was recently unveiled to be implemented next to STP1.

Called Seri Tanjung Pinang Phase II (STP2), it involves a new kidney-shaped reclaimed island measuring some 760 acres emerging on the sea directly in front of Straits Quay.

The present Gurney Drive would also be reclaimed by 131 acres – pushing the coast further out by about 80m to 100m. This alone would be enough to leave many locals and tourists aghast.

More sedimentation and siltation?

There are now fears that the vast marine environment would be made worse by this new reclamation of gargantuan proportions.

At RM25 billion, it would quite possibly be the biggest single development project to massively impact on the lives of Penangites.

At a recent public dialogue, the project proponents maintained that the waterway between the STP1 and STP2, called the “flushing channel” would have high enough velocity of water to assist in keeping the channel open, while reducing sedimentation and erosion.

But that certainly did not assuage the jitters among many Penangites who showed up.

Ecologist Datuk Dr Leong Yueh Kwong, a former director of the Penang Institute and chairman of its Centre for Habitat and Environment, may well have summed up the public apprehensions when he said that the environmental impact assessment for the first phase had stated that there would be no adverse environmental impacts that could not be mitigated against.

“And we all know the consequences of the first phase of the development which is sedimentation and siltation of the whole of Gurney Drive and other areas,” he said.

“In the second phase of the project, it is twice the size as the first phase and it is out at sea,” he stressed. “And we are told by the consultant there will be no adverse impact!”

What happens if all the reasoning turns out to be wrong? Who is going to pay for the consequences of the dredging and the siltation of the whole of the northern coast if that does happen?

Simulation and computer model used

Now, the lead consultant for project’s Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA), Prof Dr Sharifah Mastura Syed Abdullah, who is also director of the Institute of Climate Change, UKM, stressed that “some simulation” had been done when the flushing channel was designed.

It was also asserted that the computer model used, based on local observed data, is an appropriate tool to predict the effects of sediment transport.

But the assurances still do not help in that there will be heavy destruction of biodiversity.

An estimated 2.2 million cubic metres of materials would be dredged from the sea, affecting the marine habitats and benthic organisms.

It is estimated that the time required for the seabed life to recover from the dredging is three years.

Loss of biodiversity a ‘trade-off’

In addition to that, the reclamation process would permanently smother existing marine life on the mudflats and seabed and destroy the aquatic fauna there.

Furthermore, an annual net sedimentation of 10cm due to dredging works could be experienced up to about 0.7km from the dredging site, it was revealed.

Species that would be affected include cockles, bivalves, gastropods or snails, shrimps, prawns and numerous varieties of fish.

“This is a trade-off,” said Sharifah Mastura. “The mangroves will go. That is one of the trade-offs or tangible loss.”

Kanda Kumar, of the Malaysian Nature Society’s Penang branch, lamented that the mangroves that have now mostly vanished used to draw 5,000 to 10,000 migratory birds to the area.

Describing it as a “biodiversity problem”, he sounded out that migratory birds are on the decline throughout the world. “And this was one of the important feeding stations,” he said.

‘Siltation caused by 2004 tsunami’

Perhaps the most unexpected bombshell came when another lead consultant of the project’s DEIA and hydraulic studies, Datuk Dr Nik Mohd Kamel Nik Hassan, said that the major contributing factor for the current siltation was the tsunami of Dec 26, 2004.

The strong wave had brought along mud when it reached the shoreline, he said.

And in view of the fact that the tsunami was 4.2 metres high, the ground level on the northern portion of the proposed new reclamation has been planned to be at least six metres high, he added.

Whatever it may be, there is no denying that further siltation will bring long-term impact to the environment.

Also, there were concerns about what would happen if the flushing system does not work as envisaged.

If the project is abandoned, whether due to a natural or man-made disaster, Penangites would be left with hundreds of acres of extra barren mudflats in front of their shores.

And in the event that the project is confirmed and completed, the developer E&O would likely leave, leaving the state government to take over all the repairs, rectifications and maintenance, including of the very sensitive and expensive flushing system.

Would the government end up undertaking such costs using taxpayers’ money? If so, is this whole project even necessary to begin with?

These are critical questions that have yet to be answered satisfactorily by the authorities.

What next?

Before the proposed reclamation works commence, a detailed environmental impact assessment (EIA) is required and must be approved by the Department of Environment (DOE).

There will also be a separate EIA for the sourcing of sand from the seabed 200km off Lumut, and another on the development proper on STP2.

The disposal of dredged material 20km offshore from Muka Head, on the north-western corner of Penang island, has already been approved, but it will be necessary to ensure stringent compliance to prevent further sea pollution.

There are also questions about whether the coastal project itself can be challenged legally. But Sharifah Mastura said the reclamation is legitimate as provided for under the Penang Structure Plan and National Physical Plan.

As it is, the reclamation also obtained an “approval in principal” from the Penang government, which now has a stake in the project, in April 2011.

Tanjung Pinang Development Sdn Bhd which is undertaking the project, is jointly owned by E&O Property (Penang) with a 78.8% stake, and the state government with 21.2%. E&O Property is a subsidiary of Eastern and Oriental Bhd (E&O).

The DEIA report that includes comments from the public dialogue will be on public display for 45 days beginning Oct 1. The public can submit their feedback and questions within these 45 days.

Certainly, with the sort of scale and uncertainty the project brings, the authorities and proponents can expect waves of response from Malaysians at large, lashing on this issue with even greater might than the tsunami that once hit these shores.

Read more: http://www.fz.com/content/gurney-drive-reclamation-wave-success-or-disaster#ixzz2fCwIY26r

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If there is any noun more appropriate regarding the deteriorating muddy state of Coast-Mud-Politan Gurney Drive, Post-Tsunami 308 brought about an unexpected environmental CHANGE of further deterioration, which speaks volumes of empty talking promises to make a cleaner & greener Penang. I am not referring to a destructive physical tidal current of that memorable Tsunami on Boxing Day, December 2004. Just take a good hard look at the ‘growing’ mud flats of Gurney Drive. If you are light weight enough, you could possibly walk out to sea (just like Jesus) but on a calm low tide. Even after the massive… Read more »


Once “scenic” Gurney Drive. Its stopped being “scenic” before the Tanjung Pinang project. But having said that, there is no doubt the project made it worst. I have seen it before in other places that start reclamation project of their coast lines. Like it or not, the way these places get ultimately cleaned-up is MORE reclamation project – ultimately Gurney Drive beach have to be reclaimed to really clean it up. Stopping and remedies proposal cost as much as doing more reclamation..


Anil, we should just fill up the mud flap off Gurney Drive & enact a park for recreation purpose for the benefits of the people of Penang. Just don’t dredge otherwise other parts of the island will be eroded. Who knows maybe as time passes Penang Island may eventually link up with the mainland so no need for an expensive bridge or a tunnel.


Penang Island is a sick turtle. The most ‘ailing part’ or ‘diseased organ’ is Gurney Drive, sickened by ‘coast-mud-politan illness’ due to irresponsible ‘operations’ done by greedy ‘land & sea surgeons’ approved & endorsed by pre & post 2008 state gomens of 2 different ‘Oath of Hypocrites’. This costly but uncalled for ‘cosmetic surgery’ on Tanjung Tokong coastline not only caused much pains to the local living cells (the people), but it brought about a different Bing Chui (prestige face of state) that started the ‘beautifying trends’ of other body parts (beaches & hills) which sick turtle can ill afford… Read more »

Gerakan K

So that was ‘act of god’ ??? Nice try pakatan kakis !!!

Andrew I

An ‘act of god’ is when someone steps down only to miraculously return to top spot.


Since the smelly mudflats will be a permanent feature at Gurney Drive, I believe the present efforts of mangrove planting is not a good solution. Tourists come over to Gurney Drive to enjoy the sea breeze, not smelly muddy mangrove swamps. I would think the best solution is to build a marina on top of the mudflats. Reclaim the place to contruct something similar to Hong Kong Star Avenue or Stanley kind of open space for jogging, cycling and even fishing etc, and also widen to road to smoothen the traffic along Gurney Drive. Once the place is reclaimed, the… Read more »


I agree. Gurney Drive must and I stress, must be reclaimed to push the coast further out. It is highly unsightly, disgusting, smelly and unhygienic to have mud floating around the coast/beach. Yes STP 1 was no doubt the cause of it and not the tsunami but the important thing to do now is to find the solution which is to reclaim land over the muddy area and turn it into a coastal park free for all to enjoy (not high-end seafront development or highways). Sorry Anil I know you are against reclamation but I can’t stand Gney drive looking… Read more »


Gurney Drive has lost it’s charm with so many high rise buildings.


The buildings of STP2 will block any view of sunrise and sunset when viewed from existing Gurney Drive. In the future, the average rakyat can only enjoy Water Ubah on shore of Gurney Drive.

Only those who are of extravagance and opulence status can view the beautiful scene of sunset and sunrise at their million-dollar condos of STP2.

Khoo Soo Hay

The 2004 Tsunami was not the main cause of the change of the sea front.. It was the Tg Pinang Project at Straits Quay which caused it. Agreed that the sand came with the waves and washed them over into the Club compound and sea wall, but the rocks were still visible then. There was never a beach along the back of the Penang Club. The sea shore were full of rocks lining the Penang Club sea front for many many years. Then suddenly the rocks on the sea front were covered by sand, until a beach was created. The… Read more »


These CONsultants are using tsunami as an excuse to cover up the effects of unplanned high-rise development along Gurney Drive/Kelawei Road, without due care for proper sewerage system. The Extravagance & Opulance company is trying to justify their STP2 project and shift the blame of environmental damage away from them. With $$$ they could easily put their ‘report’ on magazines like The Edge. Trust them at your own peril.