24 hours a day, that is how much time everyone has. For me, there’s not always time for everything, in fact, I need to make time for some things. Although I certainly did not expect to leave Perhentian any time in April due to the fact that we had our first two volunteers arriving at the project, I decided to join my supervisor’s field trip to Borneo.
Lawas is the place we went. Clueless about where it is, I searched for the location on Google Map. Lawas is in Sarawak and it is only approximately 3-4 hours drive from Kota Kinabalu. Allim, another post grad student, missed his flight and took a later flight. We had some time to kill in town. Least did I expect we would end up in a shopping mall upon arrival. We also went to Tanjung Aru. After picking Allim up, we went for dinner at a night market. We spent the first night at Kota Kinabalu.
The next morning, we drove to Lawas after breakfast. At some point, we crossed the border from Sabah to Sarawak. It was quite a long drive until we reached Bukit Sari, where we stayed for the next few days. Ismail is the only family who lives by the bay, which is an important seagrass habitat that serves as a foraging grounds for many marine life, including sea turtles, dugongs, fishes, crabs, etc. There were two huts floating above the water. Life is very basic there. They catch what they need for food. There was water supply while electricity generated by a generator, was only for use at night. The view was stunning and sun rise and sun set could be seen. Ismail and his family were extremely welcoming and friendly. They showed really high hospitality to all guests. Everyone was so pleasant and happy. Simple and contented with life. His Mum, who was 107 years old, was still very healthy and strong. Fishing, washing, you name it, she was doing them! It was interesting to listen the stories about their lives.
We were at Lawas because the bay, namely Kuala Lawas, was discovered a few years back as a significant seagrass habitat. A sea turtle tracked through satellite was found stopping at this area. That was when researchers explored this area and found a huge area of seagrass bed, which is a size of a few football fields. Locals have seen turtles around this area but they rarely nest here. Alfonso, who is another post grad student, is doing his research studies on human-sea turtle interactions here. This trip is like a recce to understand about the study site and the human populations living around this bay. Sitting at the dining area at Ismail’s place, we could see the whole bay. During high tide, the seagrass meadows were covered by water. However, when the tide is low, we could walk around the whole bay, which is about 3km long. We managed to wander around the bay when the tide was low. The view was beautiful and surprisingly, my phone coverage was better as I went further out from the bay. We helped to look for shells. Although I found none, I managed to see starfish, fishes, crabs. The sun sets an hour earlier than in Peninsular Malaysia.
There are a few villages in Kuala Lawas. Most of the villagers are fishermen and many have seen turtles, feeding or coming up to the surface to breathe. At times, some turtles were caught in their nets and they would release the turtles. For the next two days, we drove to different villages to speak to the village head and gain some insights of human interaction with sea turtles at their feeding grounds. Depending on their fishing sites, some sighted turtles more frequently than the others. I was more a listener than a talker and most of the time, I didn’t even know most of the names of the fishes, particularly the local names. I gotta say I learned a lot by listening to their conversations. The locals produce lots of seafood products – dried fish, grilled prawns, etc.
Being at Lawas made me realised how simple life can be, how sustainable life is when humans only acquire the subsistence in life. Many of them live above the water where their houses are connected via bridges and boats. Their livelihoods depend on the sea, in which most are fishermen and they fish for a living. Of course they are not entirely backwards. They do have the latest technology, such as mobiles, Astro, etc. Still, compared to city folks, they leave much smaller carbon footprints. I definitely gained a lot from this trip…really hope to go back there again.