Main story by JelliButz
Photos by JelliButz, W.L. Wong, H.Y. Leong and Samuel Beer
Finally, after a 10-hour car ride and 30 minutes on a speedboat, we finally landed on Pulau Perhentian Besar. What a welcoming sight it was!
Organised by MNS Marine SIG (Selangor Branch), this annual dive-snorkel-beach clean-up (June 2—5) is one activity I finally got to participate in. Organisers Hon Yuen and Wee Liem got down to the business of settling us in. A small team we were, just the six of us, a cozy bunch.
After lunch, each of us got into our respective modules, be it the snorkelers or the divers. I got drawn in with a group of leisure divers and off I went for my first dive on the very same day. The abundance of marine life in pristine waters literally took my breath away! It was a different world altogether, with fishes and corals right before my eyes, within an arm’s length away.
Being the sole leisure diver in the group did not give me immunity from the assignment given by our organisers – to identify what marine life we had seen and to present to the group.
It was a night of discovery. We learned from each other as well as about each other, for example, a talented artist and a passionate beach-comber (who enthusiastically led the group on a beach-combing night-walk along the tide-receded beach).
To celebrate World Oceans Day (June 8), both Marine SIG and Alu Alu Divers (and the staff and guests of Bayu Dive Lodge) participated in clean-ups over two days.
We were briefed on the do’s and don’ts of the reef-dive clean up initiated by the dive centre.
It was another first for me. We came up with numerous plastic bottles, aluminum/tin cans, fan belts, polystyrene, a kettle, a pot, etc from the sea. It was heart-wrenching to find such rubbish in these pristine waters in a protected marine park.
The beach clean-up by Marine SIG was another eye-opener. The beach was systematically measured into 100 10-metre wide transects, and we collected and logged the rubbish in 30 randomly selected transects. This technique was based on a system by Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA) to determine an index for the beach cleanliness.
It was another heart-wrenching sight to see the kind of rubbish we recorded, amongst many – baby diapers, cigarettes butts, cans, plastics, etc.
Though we were disgusted with the apathy of many beach-goers, it is heartening to know that there will be a group of eco volunteers who are willing to put aside their time for a clean-up.
Time zipped by too fast, and it was time for us to be at the jetty again for the boat back to the mainland. The weekend had been an eye-opener to us all; not forgetting the great camaraderie that would go a long way in years to come.
Now, let’s hear what the three course participants had to say about their experiences:
Mary Chan, SSI Snorkel Diver: I wanted to join the trip, but the only non-dive package available was the Snorkel Diver course. I took the course even though I have snorkeled hundreds of times before! No regrets though; it was good to go through a systematic snorkeling course as they not only teach you the basics (which, of course, I already know) but also the safety and ecological side of being in the sea.
On the practical side, I got to skin dive a lot (for a better view of corals and fish). That was some challenge! How deep can you go?! And how long can you hold your breath for?!
I had expected a lot of other MNS members to come for this trip, but there were only four participants and two volunteer organisers. We had the chance to get to know each other much better this way! I’m definitely very glad that I joined this trip.
Steven Lim, SSI Snorkel Diver: This was a good opportunity for me to give my support (to the environment) and at the same time learn a new skill. After all, how hard can a snorkelling course be? I learnt later that it wasn’t as simple as swimming with a life jacket and doing a theory test. It required swimming in open water and diving into the sea without wearing a life jacket!
For two days we went through our theory lesson and snorkel practical in a confined water area near the dive centre. We practiced the kick, the method to dive into the water and the proper way of clearing the snorkel after submerging. It was a mixture of fear, fun and excitement.
However, my fear of deep water did not vanish with these newly learnt skills. Fortunately my instructor Colin understood my concern and we started our “experiment” – swimming in shallow water to build up my confidence, and it paid off! The next thing I knew, I was swimming in open water without a life jacket. It was a great relief and a happy moment.
Valle Sinniah, SSI Ecological Diver: I signed up for this course mainly because I wanted to improve my buoyancy. Instead I got more than I hoped for. I learnt about fish, coral and other marine life and at the same time an opportunity to contribute something back to the reef. It is a well-known fact that most dive sites in Malaysia show significant reef and ecosystem degradation. In that sense, the course has thought me the importance of being not only a better diver but also a responsible and caring one.
I had to complete the Perfect Buoyancy and Underwater Naturalist specialty courses.
The Perfect Buoyancy specialty course helped me to sharpen my skills in hovering and streamlining with emphasis on the finning technique and the Underwater Naturalist specialty course thought me to identify more of the many different species of marine life found.
As part of the course I must also participate in one clean up dive which was so much fun. And I learnt another important lesson – ‘respect and stay close to your buddy’.