Finding Nemo (and Bruce!) in Tioman

By Sali Ramly
Photos by mnsmarine

How does one begin? A one and half-hour ferry ride from Mersing to Kampung Tekek. And a lesson on how to duck-dive which, for some of us, turned out to be a memorable experience of swallowing mouthfuls of salt water!

 lhy_saliherman For a second-timer, this trip (Aug 1-3, 2003) proved to be even more rewarding than the first one in Pulau Kapas. One reason is that the writer is not so “blur-blur” anymore, because:

1.       The writer could actually see marine life now that she has a mask with prescription lenses (it was worth the investment!)
2.       The trip to Pulau Kapas had taught her well in recognising the bountiful marine life through observation and identification.


HY Leong briefs participants about marine park do’s and don’ts

We had two snorkelling outings at Tioman Island. The first outing was accessible by a 45-minute bumpy boat ride over choppy waters. Once in the water, we could see many colourful corals, including the staghorn and brain corals. There were also sea grapes and a giant oyster (unfortunately no pearl was found). We also found Nemo, or more commonly known as the false clown anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris).

As we were engrossed over the antics of the clown fish, we heard a cry from a member of our group not too far away. A turtle had been spotted, though it swam away too fast for anyone of us to admire this reptile. Where there is food, there is a hungry animal and sure enough, soon another pair of snorkeller buddies found a jellyfish, a favourite delicatessen of sea turtles. Just like the sea anemone, the tentacles of this pink-coloured animal contains stinging cells. Even though the nematocysts maybe too small to penetrate the human skin, it is best to avoid a jellyfish when one is found.

Our second snorkelling session was only 5 minutes away from the main island. If we thought that yesterday’s view was beautiful, the second day was breathtaking. There were plenty of colourful fishes, swimming solo, in pairs or in schools. The bright blue moon wrasse was spotted many times. So were the different types of butterfly fishes with chevron stripes or banded pattern. Or were they angelfishes? If only we could bring our guidebook into the water!

Some people were lucky enough to spot black-tip sharks! Of course, there was nothing to worry about. These sharks were not out to bite the poor snorkeller. In fact more often than not, a shark is a prey than it is a predator to the human being. We also found two more kingdoms of clown fish. One of us duck-dived to get a closer look at a pair. They were quite ferocious despite the size of the potential marauder. Later, from one of the trip coordinators, we found out that their behaviour was probably because the two fish were nesting.

As exciting as the 3-day trip was, soon it was time to leave. Before leaving we had a discussion on the future of Tioman. Not too long ago, the island received its duty-free status. This status implies that there are plans for future commercial development on this island. One that has been announced is the building of an airplane runway that is big enough to land a 737 jet. Part of this runway will be reclaimed from the sea. A development program of this scale will definitely disturb the fragile balance of Tioman’s ecosystem. Any changes in the land area will affect the marine bio-diversity, and perhaps the traditional livelihood of the islanders.

lhy_tiomanchapsWe left the island feeling slightly depressed. Tioman is currently one of the 10 most beautiful islands in the world. It will be a shame if we lose the wonders of Tioman due to excessive, unsustainable development. There could be a time when we may not be able to return to Tioman for the beautiful clown fish or black-tip sharks anymore. Let us hope that this is a premonition that will never come true.

Reference: Dr. Gerald R. Allen & Roger Steene, Indo-Pacific Coral Reef Guide.Tropical Reef Research, Singapore. 2002

TC’s note: Thanks to Tioman Dive Centre for letting us take over their dive shop for our talks, arranged boats and gear for our snorkelling trips, and made sure that the hotel sheltered and fed us well!