By Chitra Devi
Note: This trip concludes the Selangor Branch Marine Group’s Marine Awareness Campaign “Making waves” which highlights various aspects of marine life in Malaysia.
We left early Friday morning (September 13-15, 2002) in a convoy of six cars. The journey began at 7:15am at the Sungai Besi toll to Kluang, with a pit stop for breakfast at the Air Keroh rest stop. We left Kluang for Tanjung Leman (the jetty) at 11:50am. At 2:15pm we had lunch at the jetty and were joined by our counterparts from Johor Branch. At 3:15pm we left for the island via a two-decked motorboat. Most of us wanted to be on the top deck to look around. That’s when I glimpsed the island – its tall and dark peaks amidst a background of blue. It was truly beautiful.
We docked at 4:40pm and everyone was so excited and happy. The first agenda of the day was to check in. So we bundled up our gear and trudged to the chalet. I could hear the sea calling to us. Then reality gave me a slap in the face. Rubbish! I suppose the villagers had turned that particular spot into a dumpsite. At the chalet eatery, we assembled, with the smell of hot curry puffs in the air. June Loh, the trip’s coordinator, started with introductions, and explained the accommodation and activities for the next three days.
Coral reef walk
We decided to do the coral reef walk first. Wahab briefed us about the walk and then off we went to the beach. The rule of the day was not to remove anything from its home and not to break anything, bones included.
The reef flat extended to about 3 – 4 meters to sea, with lots of calcareous algae (Padina sp). As we walked along the reefs, we came across two types of hard corals, the brain coral (Symphyllia sp.) and staghorn coral (Acropora sp.), shaped like their namesake. Amidst the ruins of the corals, we found plenty of sea cucumbers, the long, slimy cousins of the anemones. Sea cucumbers or “gamat” are usually found around dead or semi-dead corals, due to their feeding habits. As we moved on, we saw a piece of coral moving about. On closer inspection, it was a Common Topshell (Calliostoma sp.) in the shape of a cone, about 3cm high. Well, who else if not Mr. Hermit Crab with his home going about his business. When we peered down to say hello, he disappeared from view. We also saw a type of seaweed called sea grapes, due to its resemblance, only miniature in size.
The corals had a slimy substance which we found out later that it was mucus excreted by the corals to protect itself from excessive exposure by the sun (corals are sensitive towards direct sunlight and rainwater).
We discovered one species of soft coral too, called the butter coral as well as a hard coral called the mushroom coral (Fungi sp.). And we saw a little flounder (Samariscus sp.) about 6cm long moving about the reef area, practically invisible to us due to its camouflage.
It was surprising how such a quiet and seemingly deserted area had so much to offer. We spent more than two hours learning and seeing. We went back around 7:30pm to shower and have dinner. The day was culminated with a walk to look for fireflies; we found a few around the village.
Saturday dawned bright and clear with chirps and whistles. I woke up to the sound of waves crashing and wind ruffling the coconut leaves. After breakfast, we headed to the eastern side of the island for the mangrove walk. It was quite a long trek, through a lot of bushes and shrubs. From a gentle hill, I caught sight of the blue sea embracing white sand and palms swaying in the wind. As we continued, we saw ginger plants, mistletoe, begonias and fruit trees.
At the end of the trail, a small bay could be seen, and strands of mangrove trees. I immediately spotted the Rhizophora tree, with stilt roots all over the place. A closer look confirmed it to be the R. apiculata species. Lots of shells were washed up onto the rocky beach. Wahab cautioned us to be careful of venomous snakes in the mangrove area. Heeding his advice, we were very careful while wading in the water to look at the trees.
We returned to the jetty and packed our snorkeling gear into the boat before heading for the turtle sanctuary at Pasir Panjang. We reached the sanctuary around 11:45am but found the Marine Centre closed. It was a working Saturday and only the sanctuary was open. It seems the officer-in-charge is not an islander so he’s here for three workings days. We were disappointed, but luckily for us, Wahab was able to explain about the sanctuary and the processes involved.
Since temperature determines the turtle’s gender, the hatchery has shady and open areas. Because the visit was brief, many decided to take a dip in the crystal clear water and snorkel a bit. A few of us just sat around and contemplated the view. It was really a beautiful island and clean too because the village headman has banned motorised vehicles from the island.
Around 1pm, we left for lunch and another bout of snorkeling, this time at nearby Pulau Pemanggil. When we reached the island, it was low tide so we had to jump off the boat and swim to shore. The water was filled with jellyfish – pink, blue and purple. The coral diversity was limited to staghorn, table, and brain corals. I also made note of a few sea urchins (Diadema sp.).
The highlight of the trip was the fishes – blue, yellow, silver, gold – in many sizes and shape. It was awesome to see schools of fishes swimming around you and Lawrence spotted a rayfish, the Blue-spotted Lagoon Ray (Taeniura lymma). No one found a shark, unfortunately. After having our fill of the ocean, we decided to pack up. The day ended with discussions.
This was our last day on the island. We had decided to leave early so that we could all reach Kuala Lumpur by dark. However, at the last moment, we were told that the boat was only available at 1pm. So it was a free and easy morning. A few perpetual water babies decided to go snorkeling again, but since the majority of us didn’t want to unpack, we lazed around.
Then Wahab said there is a patch of virgin forest that we can trek to. We had to get permission from the headman first because the jungle had been closed to the public ever since the last clean up of rubbish. But as he trusted the MNS to bring their rubbish out, he let us go up with the guidance of a local boy, Hafiz.
The trek took the better part of two hours. We started at 10am and were led by Wahab and Hafiz. I think a first for most was the sighting of a nutmeg tree, and then later a clove tree. Even the leaves had that tangy, spicy smell. As the trail was overgrown in some areas, we had to chop our way through. We entered a rubber estate complete with rubber-sheet producing machines. It had been abandoned a long time ago. We rested for a while. As we progressed further up, we could feel the air turning cooler. At last, we came to the beginning of the virgin forest – a big tree with leaves so big you can eat on it. As we were running out of time, we decided to head back. Wahab mentioned that a small stream further up was the only source of freshwater for the villagers.
If the going up was tough, the coming down was even worse. The trail was narrow in most places and steep in others but we managed without any mishap. After the invigorating walk, we were all sweaty, hot and thirsty. We sat down in the “pondok” near the pier to cool down.
By then it was lunchtime, and everyone was hungry so we scrambled to the “makan” place. We thought it was weird that we were served more chicken than fish. Ironic, isn’t it? But we had no complaints, as the food was good. It was already 1:30pm and time to say goodbye to Pulau Tinggi. Everyone took out their cameras, and started clicking away. We tried to remember the island’s sounds and views. At 1:45pm the boat came and we left Pulau Tinggi with hopes of revisiting the island soon.
Thanks to all trip members for being such good sports, and to Saras, the Marine Group coordinator for organising it. (Unfortunately, Saras couldn’t join us as something came up unexpectedly). Thanks to Wahab, our Marine Officer for all the explanations, and June for making sure things went smoothly. Till the next island, bye!!