Marine & cultural heritage trip, Pulau Kapas

By Sali Ramly
Photos by mnsmarine

Snorkellers ready to set outThe boat ride from Marang Jetty took about 15 minutes. Riding the waves created excitement of what’s coming ahead. We were on our way to Pulau Kapas in Terengganu for a 4-day snorkelling and cultural heritage trip (May 1-4, 2003). Snorkelling is an activity involving the nature of another world, the underwater world, much of it is still unknown. At Pulau Kapas we were going to explore the unknown.

We were introduced to coral friendly snorkelling. Some simple rules include snorkelling within the comfort zone – keep a safe distance from the corals to avoid harm to both the corals and the snorkeller. Corals can be sharp and they break easily. It takes them about a year to grow 15cm. So protect the corals and yourself by snorkelling the right way at a safe distance.

HYLeong-Kapas-snorkel_schoolEach one of us was partnered with a buddy who would be our other pair of eyes and ears. For a novice, the buddy system makes one feel more comfortable and safe being in the sea. Then it was time to get into the water. The shallow end of course! We were taught how to put on and take off our fins, move around in the water, clear a foggy mask (spitting on it is nature’s best way to do it!) and clear our snorkels if water got in. Then off we tried our skills – swimming back and forth near the beach. We couldn’t wait until the following day.

Mind where you step...slippery rocks ahead!Day two was a jungle treasure hunt, which took us to the other side of Pulau Kapas. It was not only a fun outdoor activity with booby traps designed to confuse us, but also an effort to give back to the environment by jointly collecting both rubbish along the trail and debris that had been washed up onto the shore. The trek itself started easy but became more demanding as we proceeded, ending with a steep rocky hill that required extra assistance from group members. It was a showcase of group camaraderie as some team members helped others get through the tougher parts of the trek. But kudos goes to our “Man of the Trip” who was given the task of carrying an egg (a treasure) throughout the trek. The egg arrived safely – little did he know it was a raw egg!

Christmas tree worms for all to seeIn the afternoon, we hopped onto two boats for our journey to the other end of the island where we learned how to get into the water from a boat. The trip gave us a breathtaking view of the underwater world. The corals, in a colourful array of red, yellow, purple and green, were in abundance. And so were the fishes and other marine life. We saw Staghorn Corals, Christmas Trees, sea urchins and lots of clown fish, among others.

We regrouped after dinner and discussed sharks. Have you ever had shark fin soup? Do you know how the fins are harvested? The shark is captured, its fins are cut off and then it is let go. Without the fins the shark is paralysed. It is only a matter of time before it reaches its demise. Wouldn’t it be better for us to refrain from taking shark fin soup? Or better yet, how about using imitation shark fins made from a melon, as suggested by one of our group mates?


Kwang, the coordinator laying out the tulipsAs if we didn’t have enough of treasure hunting, we had another one on day three. This time it was underwater, where most of the tulips were placed. In the afternoon, we headed further to open sea for more snorkelling. The corals were much more magnificent in the pristine water. We were having such a great time when suddenly dark clouds started to form overhead.

The wind became stronger, the water rougher, and one of the boats started to hit the corals. We were later informed that it was almost trapped between the corals and had to be towed away. Unfortunately in such a situation, the boatmen did not communicate this with us. As a result, most of us were still in the water when we realised that both boats had seemed to abandon us. Luckily three of our experienced coordinators were with us (the fourth was helping those nearer the stricken boat to get onboard). Being abandoned can easily make anyone panic and scared. Following instructions, we swam towards the shore and waited there until the boats returned to pick the rest of us up.

This incident taught us a valuable lesson about handling unexpected situations. Just keep calm and things will be all right. At this point it is important to recall a few points when going snorkelling: go with a buddy and look up every now and then. Needless to say, once the boats were moored safely, we went into the water again.

On our last night together, we had an activity after our barbecue dinner – a game of charades. Now, how do you act out a sea anemone?

We concluded our marine portion of the trip with another discussion, this time on sea turtles – did you know that there are six endangered species of turtles? Of this number, four are found in this region including the leatherback turtle, which is at the brink of extinction! As despairing as it sounds, the good news is that, at least for the green turtles, the nesting population has shown a remarkable improvement through efforts by turtle sanctuaries in this region.


Before leaving for home, we did a brief tour of Kuala Terengganu’s batik and brassware factories after a satisfying lunch of Nasi Dagang. We also visited Jenang village for attap leave roof weaving and young coconut juice drinking. Time always flies when you’re having a good time and soon it was time to head home.

The trip to Pulau Kapas was not merely a snorkelling trip. We learned a lot on this trip. The most important lesson is how to be with nature. Always respect nature and nature will reward you accordingly. Congratulations to the four coordinators, and to the rest of the group, for making this trip a wonderful and rewarding experience.


Programme facilitators, from L to R: HY Leong, WL Wong, SL Wong and KL Kwang

Note: Sali, like a majority of trip members, is a first-time snorkeller. Seventy per cent of members could not swim. It was heartening to note the enthusiasm and respect they each had for Malaysia’s underwater heritage, and the knowledge they gained from this trip. Thank you to the other coordinators: S.L. Wong, K.L. Kwang and Wong Wee Liem for whom this trip would not have been possible. This fun experience has spurred us on to more trips of this nature. – H.Y. Leong