What Are These Balls Floating In The Ocean Around Tioman?

Unfortunately, it’s not good news for Tioman waters…

These are clumps of oil from large ships ILLEGALLY cleaning their bilge tanks at sea. We think that some inconsiderate captain must have flushed out their tanks quite close to Tioman judging by the shear numbers of these sticky oil balls floating on the prevailing northerly winds past Tioman.

Oil balls floating at the surface between Tioman and Labas Island
Oil balls floating at the surface between Tioman and Labas Island

Alvin from Reef Check Malaysia and the B&J Project AWARE team spotted this oil spill on the boat crossing to Labas Island for the monthly Crown of Thorn and Clean Up activities.  They saw thousands of black clumps floating at the surface, numbers so great it was impossible for Captain Ateh to dodge them with the boat. The impact was made even more apparent when they stopped by to check out the debris in Mangrove Bay (still awful) and they saw clump after clump floating in the clear water. They decided to pick up as many of the oil balls as possible by skillfully maneuvering the boat and hand balling them into bags. They thought the problem was sorted until they headed round the corner to one of the most tranquil little beaches on Coral Island. Here they found an unbelievable sight of hundreds of washed up oil clumps melting on the pristine white sand.

Oil balls washed up on shore slowly melting
Oil balls washed up on shore slowly melting, making it impossible to pick them up without a shovel

They did what they could with the tools at hand, but as they weren’t expecting to deal with oil spills that day they were fighting a losing battle.

When they’d filled every plastic bag at their disposal, they reluctantly admitted defeat and headed back to base to responsibly dispose of the collected oil.

Alvin has reported the spill to the Department of the Environment and the Marine Parks authority but unfortunately the deed has already been done. Captains are required by law to take their ships to port and have their bilge tanks cleaned. It is illegal by international law for this cleaning to take place at sea. Once the dirty evidence is floating in the ocean, it’s impossible to trace the culprit unless they are caught in the act. As usual, it’s our beautiful reefs, marine life and coastal areas that take the hit.

As always, Alvin and the B&J team will continue to collect as much as they can – let’s hope this kind of illegal activity can be stopped for good.

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