Plan Your Trip to Perhentian Islands

Friends always contact me when they are planning a trip to Perhentian Islands. Most of them would have done their homework, knowing that the Perhentians consist of two islands – Perhentian Besar (big island) and Perhentian Kecil (small island). So, their questions are…

Which island is better? Perhentian Besar or Perhentian Kecil?
Both islands are beautiful. Each offers different attractions. Perhentian Kecil is known as a backpackers’ paradise where Long Beach is the only place for beach party. The two main beaches at Kecil are Long Beach (on the East) and Coral Bay (on the West). Mira Beach, Petani Beach, D’ Lagoon, etc, are a few other smaller beaches that are less crowded, thus giving you more privacy. The only village is located in the Southwest of Kecil. You cannot sunbath or walk around in your bikinis in the village but it is worth visiting the village. Most of the tourists staying in the village are Malaysians (packaged groups). Almost all the beaches on Kecil are accessible by foot. Perhentian Besar is more peaceful, especially at night. The two main beaches at Besar are Teluk Dalam (on the South) and the whole stretch on the Eastern side, plus two smaller beaches at Teluk Pauh and Tanjung Tukas.

Where to stay?
Most of the accommodations are situated next to the beach, except those in the village and along the pathway between Long Beach and Coral Bay. I’ll list the accommodation available on the islands.

Packaged tour or non-packaged tour?
Malaysians usually opt for packaged tour as they are easier to organise and cheaper in price. A packaged tour usually include boat transfer, accommodation, meals and 1-2 snorkel tours. If you do book for a packaged tour, please book through the resorts/chalets or a registered travel company. There have been many cases where customers showed up but there was no booking at the chalets. Don’t be fooled by package that is too cheap to be true. Nothing cheap is good and nothing good is cheap. Always ask for the name of the accommodation (so that you can compare the prices) and double check with the resort/chalet that your booking is confirmed. Non-packaged tour, on the other hand, offers more flexibility to your trip. You can plan your daily activities. You can go diving instead of snorkelling. You can eat at different places.

How to get there?
You need to get to Kuala Besut Jetty before 4pm in order to catch the last boat to the island. There is a direct bus to Kuala Besut bus station from most cities (e.g. Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Kuala Terengganu, Johor Bahru). If you are flying, fly to Kota Bharu Airport and take a taxi to Kuala Besut Jetty. Alternatively, you can drive to Kuala Besut Jetty and park your car there.

How much is the boat transfer from mainland to the Perhentians?
A return boat transfer from Kuala Besut jetty to Perhentian Islands costs RM70. Some offer as low as RM50. The earliest boat departing from Kuala Besut jetty is at 8am (sometimes earlier) and the latest boat is at 4pm (sometimes later). It is important to know the name of the resort/chalet that you are staying. The boat will drop you at the beach where you are staying. Times where the waves are strong at Long Beach, they will drop you at Coral Bay and you need to walk to Long Beach. To leave Perhentian Islands, you call the boat operator on your boat ticket a day before. Some resorts/chalets offer to make that arrangement for you. You can either leave at 8am, 12pm or 4pm (not always on time). This is because the boat picks up tourists from different beaches so better be there early. When it is near the monsoon, the only time available is at 8am. Always check with your boat operator.

How much is the boat taxi in the Perhentians?
It is quite common to take a boat taxi from one beach to another beach. There are taxi stands/huts on most beaches. The price varies between RM5-30 one way, depending on the distance. The price doubles after 7pm and triples after 12am. If you are travelling on your own, you need to pay the price for 2 person. Check if your resort/chalet offers taxi service for free.

How much money do I need?
There are no ATMs/banks on the islands so bring enough cash. Only a few resorts/chalets have credit card service. If you are on a packaged tour, you probably don’t need much. However, if you have only booked your accommodation and boat transfer, do put aside RM10-20 per meal. Food is not cheap on the islands as everything is transported in from mainland. Buy snacks and mineral waters from mainland and bring them with you to save money. Boat taxi and alcohol cost the most (if you are not diving). One can of beer costs RM10.

What can I do there?
– Snorkelling: The Perhentians have many nice snorkel sites. The most common snorkel tour brings you to 3-4 sites, for example Turtle Point (a green turtle foraging site), Shark Point (black tip reef sharks), Fish Garden, Coral Garden, Lighthouse, etc. Another snorkel attraction is Rawa Island, which is located to the North of small islands. There are also day snorkel trips to Redang Island.

– Diving: The Perhentians is one of the islands that offers cheap diving package. A few of the more popular dive sites are Tokong Laut, Sugar Wreck, Batu Layar, Shark Point, Vietnamese Wreck, D’ Lagoon and T3. Of course the list continues.

– Kayaking: Since the Perhentians consist of two islands, kayaking is a good way to go from one beach to another and from one snorkel site to another.

– Sunrise and sunset: There are a few places to watch sunrise (before 7am) from the windmill, Long Beach and D’ Lagoon. All the beaches facing the West are suitable for watching sunset (before 7pm). My favourite place is at Teluk Keke and the rocks by Shari-la Resort at Coral Bay.

– Visit the turtle hatchery at Turtle Beach before 3pm. Look for the staff members from the Perhentian Turtle Project who are happy to talk to you about sea turtles and conservation.

– Round-island hike: All the beaches with resorts are connected through a pathway or jungle trekking.

– Hike to windmill: It is a 15-20 minutes walk uphill from Long Beach and the view is magnificent from the top.

– Clean-up: You will come across trash when you walk around the islands. Bring your trash with you and pick up the trash you see along the way. Throw them into the bins. Together we can keep the islands clean.

– Stand-up paddling: Only seen it at Long Beach and Bubbles Dive Resort at Tanjung Tukas.
– Wind-surfing: So far only available at Alunan Resort at Petani Beach.
– Surfing: Usually near the monsoon season at Long Beach.
– Malay dinner: Experience a Malay meal in a local house in the village.

Other things worth sharing:
– A waterproof bag is useful at all occasions.
– Never underestimate the sun. Apply sunblock before getting into the sun and some aloe vera gel if you get sunburned. Sunblock is not good for corals so best is cover up (e.g. putting on rash vest, wear a hat, sunglasses, etc).
– Most of the snorkel areas are shallow and calm. Even without fins/flippers, you can snorkel just fine.
– There is a clinic in the village. Bring along your I/C card or passport, and money.
– Try the doughnuts at PILA Cafe in the village.
– Always snorkel within the buoy line and look out for boats.
– Never leave your belongings unattended (sandals too!), especially when you party at Long Beach at night.
– Try Monkey Juice, which is a mix of Orang Utan (cheap rum) and 7Up. Never mix it with Coke, Pepsi or other carbonated drinks!
– Help build a turtle database by submitting turtle photos to turtle@ecoteer.com. The facial scales of each individual turtle are unique. You can name the turtle if it is a new turtle!
– Check out for volunteering opportunities with Perhentian Turtle Project, Perhentian Community and Conservation Project, and Perhentian Marine Research Station that are based in the village, as well as Bubbles Dive Resort’s conservation project.

Perhentian Islands have a lot to offer so take the time to explore and immerse yourself in the nature!

Because Every Picture Has A Story to Tell

When I first read about sea turtle photo identification, I was really excited because it provides an opportunity to study more about the sea turtles at Perhentian Islands. There is a lack of research done on sea turtles here, hence a paucity of data about the population around these islands. Moreover, tagging has not been practised for more than a decade.

Photo identification is a reliable method of identifying every individual turtles. Each turtle has unique facial scale and spot patterns on both sides and these features are visible on photos. It is less invasive to sea turtles as no physical contact is needed. Moreover, tagging only studies the nesting females on the beach but photo identification enables the study of both juveniles, male and female adults at nesting beaches and feeding grounds in the sea. Even if a turtle loses its tags, it is still possible to identify the individual through its face. It also enables the understanding of sea turtle habitat use around the islands. More interestingly, the locals and tourists can participate in the study as many take sea turtle photos when they encounter one. Of course, this is all possible if the photos are clear and sighting data such as date, time and location the photos are accurate.

Out of curiosity, I started looking for sea turtle photos that I have and looked at the facial scale patterns of these turtles. True enough, it is actually possible to identify each and every one of them! Hence, the Perhentian Turtle Project was set up in hope to better understand the sea turtle population size here. As some turtles were seen more than once and for a few years, I realised photo identification is not merely about identifying individuals and knowing their movements. It also enables us to monitor their progress, more of like every photo taken of the same turtle at different times shows how the turtle is at a particular time.

For example, we saw P15F for the first time in May 2012. The next recorded sighting of P15F was in August 2014 and the photos showed a cracked shell, which looks like boat strike. However, lucky for the turtle, it survived and the injury healed. The scar is visible on photos taken in May 2015.

P15F, a female adult green turtle first seen feeding in 2012

P15F, a female adult green turtle first seen feeding in 2012

When P15F was sighted again, it had a cracked shell

When P15F was sighted again in 2014, it had a cracked shell

In 2015, P15F was seen with a scar on its shell that showed a healed injury from the hit by boat propeller

In 2015, P15F was seen with a scar on its shell that showed a healed injury from boat strike

Unfortunately, P5F, an adult female green turtle, suspected to be hit by boat, may not be that lucky. The first photo of P5F was taken in 2012. In 2013, it was seen having tags on both of her front flippers. After zooming in the photos, the tag numbers showed 5911 (left) and 5912 (right). They were tags from SEATRU (UMT Sea Turtle Research Unit). SEATRU confirmed that P5F was tagged in May 2013 and up to July that year, she laid 9 nests at Redang Islands. It was seen again in September 2013 at Perhentian Islands. It has been around since. It is one of the tame turtles that don’t mind having snorkellers watching it feed. Sadly, when it was seen on 8th September this year, it had a huge crack at its shell. She seemed to be feeding like normal, only God knows how it felt. The crack looked severe and I can only hope it survives the hit and continue to live and breed. It has not gone back to Redang Islands to nest since 2013. If it survives, it may still in the future lay more nests. Most feel for injured animals. In this case, P5F is not just an animal. As it is frequently seen, it feels like I know P5F, which is why the more heartbreaking it is to see this happening to it.

P5F was first spotted in 2012

P5F was first spotted in 2012

One year after, it was seen around Perhentian Islands with tags at its front flippers

One year later, it was seen around Perhentian Islands with tags at its front flippers

Recently, P5F was seen with a really bad cracked shell

Recently, P5F was seen with a really bad cracked shell

Every adult female can lay on average of 100-120 eggs, between 2-10 nests a breeding season. Most conservation efforts are put into protecting the eggs and hatchlings because sea turtles have a very high mortality rate when they are young. It is believed only 1 in 1000 to 10000 hatchling survive to adulthood. It takes them an average of 25 years to become sexually matured. The fact that only that small number of hatchlings will make it to adults makes it more important to increase protection measures to protect these adult turtles so that they can continue to breed.

Boats are one of the main threats for sea turtles at Perhentian Project. There are many identified turtles with injuries and scars from boat strike. Some survived, some didn’t. So far this year, the project received 3 reported death of sea turtles. 2 had decomposed and were beyond identification. Meanwhile the other one was not found on the database, meaning it has not been spotted anywhere in the water or on the beach.

Malaysia has started using TEDs to reduce turtle bycatch which is also one of the main threats to sea turtle besides turtle eggs consumption. What about threats from boat propellers? To come up with mitigation measures, that everyone agrees to, is always the hardest part. Everyone acknowledges the problem and when it comes to solutions, there are conflicts. To entirely protect the feeding grounds by not allowing boat traffic is not entirely impossible but locals would disagree because their livelihoods depend on bringing tourists to these areas to see turtles. To enforce a rule that every boat needs to slow down the speed of their boats at feeding grounds needs continuous monitoring which requires manpower that the authorities involved lacks of. Maybe a boat propeller cover can be a solution, as long as it doesn’t affect the speed and fuel usage of the boat.

However, the mortality of juvenile or adult sea turtles is increasing in an alarming rate. Is it really enough to only increase the efforts on nesting beaches without taking more protection measures to mitigate threats to sea turtles in the ocean?

The project is new and we only have photos from 2011. An on-going photo identification research allows a better and more comprehensive understanding of the sea turtle population, their habitat use and movement around these islands. Any turtle photos taken, even from previous years, can be submitted to the project for identification. Conservation efforts can be improved with a strong and sound understanding, which is what the project is trying to achieve.

A Memorable Trip to Lawas

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.

Watching sunset at Tanjung Aru

Watching sunset at Tanjung Aru

Seafood dinner at night market

Seafood dinner at night market

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.

Ismail's warm home where we stayed for a few nights

Ismail’s warm home where we stayed for a few nights

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.

The seagrass bed shows itself when the tide is low

The seagrass bed shows itself when the tide is low

A walk on the seagrass bed

A walk on the seagrass bed

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.

Fishing villages

Fishing villages

The daily life of the local communities

The daily life of the local communities

Talking to the local communities

Talking to the local communities

A variety of local seafood

A variety of local seafood

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.

Saying goodbye is never easy but as the Malay saying goes “Setiap pertemuan pasti ada perpisahan, itulah lumrah kehidupan”. Till we meet again…

Happy World Turtle Day!

I have been to Penang since I was young and I never knew there is a turtle sanctuary in Penang. This trip to Penang was for a CSR programme with Shangri-la’s Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa and two local schools in conjunction with World Turtle Day on 23rd May.

Shangri-la Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa

Shangri-la Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa

Two year’s ago, we had a company trip to Penang. We rented an apartment just right across the resort. It was quite a pleasant surprise to arrive at the resort as I actually thought in my head two years ago when I walked past the resort, how nice it would be to stay here! Ta da, destiny brought me back here! Liz, the CSR Manager was very lively and warm! Together with Mike, Liz and staff from the resort, we ran a 2-days programme for school children. It was really fun to watch everyone learn about turtles and play games and interact with each others!

Turtle Awareness Programme with Rasa Sayang staff and school children!

Turtle Awareness Programme with Rasa Sayang staff and school children!

After the programme, Liz took us to the turtle sanctuary at Pantai Kerachut, which is about 15-20 minutes drive from Batu Ferringhi. I was really excited about it. The government’s hatchery is situated in Penang National Park, which was set up to help protect and preserve the turtle population in Malaysia. Visitors need to either hike to the protected beach or take a boat there. We decided to do both, hike there and take boat ride back. There is a Registration Office for visitors to register their names before entering the National Park.

Penang National Park and the entrance to hike to the Turtle Sanctuary

Penang National Park and the entrance to hike to the Turtle Sanctuary

The hike was quite easy actually. There are signboards to show visitors the way and also information about the trees and animals found in the National Park. I think it took us approximately an hour to walk to Pantai Kerachut. Before we reached the beach, there was a meromictic lake, where the seawater and freshwater do not mix. This lake is seasonal and we were lucky that the lake was there when we went. There was a suspension bridge that connects the trail to the beach.

The trail to hike from the entrance to the turtle sanctuary

The end of the trail leads to a seasonal meromictic lake with a suspension bridge to cross over to Pantai Kerachut

The end of the trail leads to a seasonal meromictic lake with a suspension bridge to cross over to Pantai Kerachut

The weather was lovely, of course hot and humid! We walked to the turtle sanctuary. Mike spotted two recently-hatched hatchlings in the hatchery. One of the staff came out and told us to take the hatchlings in. We had some short conversation about turtle conservation. They have about 70 nests a year and unlike the nesting season in the East Coast, apparently they have turtle nestings all year round.

Penang Turtle Sanctuary

Penang Turtle Sanctuary

Before we left, Liz and Mike played frisbee on the beach but I was too lazy to under the hot sun. We took a boat back at 10.30am. The boat ride reminded me of Perhentian and every time I am away, I miss the island! We all really enjoyed the visit to the turtle sanctuary. If anyone would ever want to visit, I would say do the hike, definitely worth it!

Pantai Kerachut where Liz and Mike played frisbee and a view from the boat ride!

Pantai Kerachut where Liz and Mike played frisbee and a view from the boat ride!

The whole stay at Penang was awesome and a great way to celebrate World Turtle Day, educating and creating awareness about protecting and preserving the dwindling turtle population to more Malaysians and meeting turtle conservationists! Everyone can help to save the turtles!

Happy World Turtle Day!!

Happy World Turtle Day!!

My Snorkel Experience

I went snorkelling two days ago. The monsoon is approaching and almost every evening there is a storm and the current has become stronger. Despite of that, the visibility in the sea was perfect. It felt like I was swimming in a swimming pool. There were less tourists and most snorkel sites were not crowded. I had seen more fishes around the reefs, however, they looked hungry. I wanted to see coral fishes in the reef but I did not want them to circle me as if I had food for them or thinking I was THE food! This is the reason why we should not feed the fish! This is not an aquarium and these fishes are not pets! By feeding them bread, we change their behaviour. In areas where snorkellers do not visit often, fishes are more sensitive to the presence of humans and they usually swim away. However, at snorkel sites where snorkellers are always present to feed the fishes, they start to associate human with food! I’ve seen certain fishes that would usually go the other direction as I swim nearer but the same type of fishes elsewhere where snorkeller activities are frequent, display a different behaviour. Not only do they not swim away, they just continue feeding on corals, even when I swim really close by. What happens is the fishes that always feed on bread provided by snorkellers probably still find their own food but depend highly on humans for food supply. So the question is what happens during the monsoon season when tourism slows down? No snorkellers equals no food supply. As much as I would like to think that the bread given is extra food supply for these fishes, assuming they usually are capable of finding food on their own, but I seriously doubt so.

It is a wonder how the marine ecosystem works and how every single marine life holds a place in the complex food web. Nature has its way to function and it is humans who always disrupt the functionality of the nature. I find it interesting to watch the marine life’s interactions – an adult back tip reef shark chasing after a coral fish, a damsel fish guarding its territory, a clownfish hiding among the sea anemone, a pair of rabbitfish swimming together, a parrotfish feeding on corals, a green turtle feeding on sea grass, etc. It is a beautiful sight and I believe in practising respect for others and this includes non-human organisms! Humans have developed and progressed so much that we have technologies that enable to go to places like the ocean and space but having the privilege to go underwater doesn’t mean we own the ocean and have the right to do as we wish. Sadly, not many act so. I have seen humans stepping on corals, harassing and chasing turtles, grabbing clownfish out of its home, throwing sea cucumbers around, picking starfish out of the ocean, etc. In short, touching everything just out of curiosity! Where’s the respect for marine life and its environment?

This year I have also seen snorkel guides luring reef sharks so that their customers see sharks and moral eels. Hello??!! This is an ocean, not an aquarium! There is no guarantee that we’ll definitely see a shark! Shark Point is a common feeding ground for the black tip reef sharks but they roam around in the ocean and they swim fast! It is common to miss them even when someone else snorkelling beside sees it! If the harmless coral fishes associate humans with food, imagine when these marine carnivores associate us as potential food?? The last time I saw an adult reef shark swimming around and when it swam towards me, I was asking myself in my head, did it think I had food or I was food! There have been cases of humans being bitten by reef sharks and moral eels even though under normal circumstance, they do not attack humans.

Talking about attacks reminds me of triggerfish that always attack divers to fend their nests. Lately the sighting of triggerfish is high. For the first time, I actually saw a pair of triggerfish at Turtle Bay. The common instinct when I see a triggerfish is to avoid it and swim off the other direction. Two days ago while conducting a coral survey, I dived down to compare the colour of the corals using a chart. For some reasons, I actually turned before swimming upward and that was the moment where I think my heart beat actually stopped for a second when a triggerfish was like 1m in front of me. Lucky me, it swam off while I frantically swam away from it too! What an experience!

Every snorkel tour has been awesome and never once the same! The marine ecosystem is dynamic and ever changing. However, human behaviours stay the same. Almost 2 years at Perhentian, not once have I not encountered humans touching turtles, stepping on corals, kicking the corals with fins and the list goes on. Many accused the authorities for their weak and lack of enforcement but I always believe that everyone plays an important part to make a difference. With awareness and knowledge come responsibility to do what is right! This world is not about summoning and giving out fines whenever someone breaks the laws. Do we litter just because we know there is no enforcement? No!! We throw our trash into the bins because it is the right thing to do! Humans are the most advanced organism but sometimes our actions prove otherwise. There were times when I told the snorkellers not to feed the fish and not to step on corals or simply pulled them away from the turtle, I received negative remarks, such as ‘What’s your problem?’, ‘Apasal menyibuk?’, etc. Well, I’m sorry if it didn’t feel good being pulled but that could be how the turtle felt too! I don’t like being the bad guy but to ignore and let this continue is like seeing and allowing the marine environment to deteriorate. I really hope with more environmental education and awareness, humans can think and act right. Treat the Earth and all that dwell thereon with respect.

The Earth does not belong to us. We belong to the Earth. 
– Chief Seattle –

Pollution beyond damage control

One week later after the pontoon was swept ashore at Teluk Keke, Ecoteer volunteers and school children were back to do another beach clean up. The rubbish collection has started on 15th April. If this is done on a daily basis, supposedly no operators would bring the rubbish to the pontoon. Although the pontoon was anchored back to its original place, it might not be for the best because when there is no collection, they will start to transfer all waste to this floating rubbish dump site and pollution will once again happen.

Majlis Daerah Besut did come and clean up the mess but sorry to say this, the effort wasn’t good enough. There were still rubbish lying on the beach and plenty of plastic bags floating in the sea. It had rained for almost a week and maybe nature has its way to cleanse the ocean. However, looking at the amount of trash we produce, it’s way beyond what nature itself can do. Hopefully a beach clean up would at least tidy up the beach a bit.

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Perhentian Islands are paradise. Tourism industry has developed fast but is it sustainable? If pollution continues to happen and nobody cares, the environment conditions will only deteriorate. I see before my eyes how rubbish, solid or liquid waste goes straight into the sea. As much as the country wants to promote tourism and develop the island, it is crucial to protect the environment and its wildlife.

Not all operators have proper waste system. Even in the village, the sewage system can’t be considered good. There is just a fence to block physical waste from flowing into the sea. What about waste that human eyes can’t see, like E. coli, etc? If I were just a tourist, I would be here just a couple of days and then I would be gone. However, for villagers who have been here for centuries and for a better future, how can anyone still choose to be ignorant?! Most locals admitted that the economic has increased since tourism started, however has their environmental awareness improve? Even if the community is aware, they need a waste management system. There are not enough rubbish bins in the village or anywhere else at Perhentian. Where to throw the rubbish if not in the bins? Is it alright to dump the waste at the dump site knowing well that there is no collection? Open burning is forbidden but that’s the only solution to get rid of the rubbish if it is not shipped out of the island!

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There might be things that is beyond our strength, however, being a responsible tourist helps a lot. Please don’t litter and if possible, bring your waste out of the island to reduce the accumulation of rubbish. After living on the island for more than a year, I see how much waste we can produce every day and how severe pollution is due to human! Wherever human is, there is rubbish! Please…

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Will Perhentian Islands be pollution free?

For the past few years, Majlis Daerah Besut awards a contractor on a yearly basis through tender to collect rubbish from Perhentian Island. All operators also pay RM15/room per month for rubbish collection. However, every year there is a delay to appoint a contractor. When the contract starts, the rubbish disposal system works well as the contractor collects every day. Unfortunately, before the contract starts, the collection is not done on a daily basis. The excuse we have been given this year of ‘tak cukup peruntukan’ or ‘belum dapat peruntukan daripada kerajaan Negeri’ is not good enough. Life still goes on around the islands during election time and rubbish builds up very quickly. 2013 is Visit Terengganu Year and it is a concern because tourists are complaining about the pollution in the sea and on land.

Initially, rubbish was brought to pontoons, which are floating platforms that served as disposal sites. A large contractor boat would collect the trash from the pontoons and dispose it to mainland every day. The Marine Park Department has banned the use of these pontoons because when the pontoons are full and the sea becomes rough, bags of trash would end up in the sea. Instead of bringing their trash to the pontoons, the resorts leave the trash at designated collection sites on beaches by the jetty.

However, this year the trash has not been collected every day, the rubbish piles up at the front of resorts and the smell and sight become unbearable. Therefore, some resorts are forced to move the rubbish to the floating pontoons. In the village, they burn the trash instead. Due to the overflowing trash, many bags ended up in the sea. The head village stated on 7th of April that 3 complaints have been made.

A marine park officer was informed that the contract starts on the 16th of April. It is just less than a week time from today but the rubbish is accumulating fast and polluting the island. Even when the boat comes, the amount of rubbish is too much to be shipped out. The rubbish is accumulating faster than it is being disposed out of the island. The sea is polluted and the visibility in the sea is poor due to waste particles. There are black trash bags floating on the surface and some had split and the waste contents like plastic bottles, plastic bags, polystyrene, cardboards, chicken skin, etc spilled into the sea.

In the morning of the 9th April, the floating pontoon full of trash was swept ashore. The ropes that anchored the pontoon must have broken. All the rubbish ended up on the beach. Many plastic bags split and the waste spilled out. The sea and the beach were polluted.

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The pictures were taken at Teluk KK, Perhentian Besar. This is only one of the polluted beaches at Perhentian. If a regular collection is happening at Redang, why not at Perhentian? There is also a lack of rubbish bins at Perhentian and no rubbish collection from beaches without resorts that tourists stop for snorkelling, such as Pulau Rawa, Teluk KK, Tiga Ruang, etc.

Although there was an immediate effort to clear the rubbish from the pontoon and the beach the very next day, the damage to has been done. The beach is not entirely pollution free. Prevention is always better than damage control. This rubbish pollution is serious health, safety and environmental hazards to everyone on the island. There have been cases where people had cuts from broken glasses on the beach.

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I sincerely hope that the relevant authorities ensure that immediate and effective action is taken to resolve this problem. Please also take into consideration that the same rubbish problem repeats itself every year before a new contract is being awarded.  It is understandable that it is hard for the rubbish collection barges to arrive at the islands during the monsoon but by March the waves’ strength has decreased significantly. If building and petrol barges are able to enter the island, why can’t rubbish collection barges enter? If the state government can improve this by awarding a contractor at the beginning of the year and have rubbish collection regularly the whole year, the Perhentian Islands could be crowned again as the most beautiful islands in South East Asia.

2013 Visit Terengganu Year?

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Anyone who is in the sea snorkelling or diving at Perhentian probably has seen this since last week. The sea stinks and rubbish is everywhere in the ocean and on the beach. The visibility is bad due to waste particles. The condition will only get worse if the rubbish is not collected and shipped out of the island.

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Every year Majlis Daerah hired a contractor who sends 2 fishing boats to load all the waste to mainland every day. Operators who pay every month for rubbish collection will usually leave all the rubbish on the beach near the jetty. A small speed boat will go to each collection site and transfer the waste to the bigger boats.

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However, collection is not done on a daily basis during the monsoon season from December to April. This is the time where rubbish piles up. Resorts or chalets can’t leave the rubbish by the beach as it is an unpleasant sight and the odour is unbearable. Although the use of pontoons have been banned due to overflowing rubbish into the sea, especially when the it rains and the wind is strong, operators started to move the rubbish from the beach to the pontoons. The garbage on the pontoon accumulates and becomes a landfill above sea level.

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Due to the fact that the rubbish is not collected frequently, these waste ends up in the sea. Tourists who visit Perhentian now will definitely see black plastic bags floating nearby the pontoon. These bags float along the current and many ended up on beaches. Some will tear off and the leaking waste pollutes the ocean! As much as I enjoy the marine life, I’m not willing to snorkel or swim in the ocean that is dirty!

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I believe everyone knows it is a problem that needs immediate action. Human still produce rubbish every day and if there is no collection, it is just a matter of time Perhentian becomes polluted and tourism growth will decrease. Tourism Malaysia has launched that 2013 is the year to visit Terengganu but with such poor environmental conditions, I doubt anyone would want to come for Perhentian Fiesta which should be on-going throughout April. I hope that the government take immediate action to solve this problem because it is a health hazard to anyone who is on the island!

Robbing a Turtle!

I just came back from Long Beach, the notorious beach packed with backpackers and tourist who are looking for some beach party. Although it’s way past bedtime but what happened at Long Beach kept me awake. I felt helpless, wanted to do something so badly, yet didn’t know what to do! It felt like seeing a human being robbed and didn’t know who to ask for help!

When I passed by Beach Bar, I saw people going under two huge umbrellas. Without putting much thought, I went to Monkey Bar and were there for maybe 15 min. When I went back to Black Tip, I walked pass the umbrellas again. I did wonder what the crowd was looking at but my curiosity didn’t go far. While I was looking for a place to sit at Black Tip, the boatman came and told me there was a turtle laying eggs. I walked towards the umbrellas and saw someone digging the eggs out while the turtle was laying eggs. Even with the loud music blasting at the back, the mother turtle didn’t seem to care much! I felt I should do something but what? I wanted to call Fisheries but looking at the waves, there was no way they could make it in time. Every local there wanted a share of the turtle eggs. One woman even screamed at the other men ‘Just give me 2 eggs! I’m just asking for 2 eggs!’ The longer I watched, the more it hurt. Everyone just seemed so inhumane. Nobody cared!

My friend ushered me away as it didn’t help staying any longer. It only made most of us felt really bad about the whole thing. I felt like shit. For once, I felt so restless and I regretted not doing anything! At that time, I really had no idea what I could do! Either talking sense into the locals or fighting for the eggs but neither would be good. However, I guess it was the worst to see all the eggs being poached! When I tried to speak to the boatman to do something, he didn’t think eggs consumption will lead to the extinction of turtles and it did piss me off when he said it in a way that the turtle brought this to itself by coming to the wrong beach to lay eggs! The whole incident was so morally wrong, it really felt like watching a robbery and there was nothing I could do about it!

I wonder do human have to lose something before they learn to appreciate what they have now? Leatherback turtles are locally extinct in just less than two decades. Do we really want the same thing to happen to the other species too? It is a tradition to eat turtle eggs since centuries ago but nowadays, due to other contributing factors (all related to human), eating turtle eggs really could influence the future population. If everyone thinks that eating one egg is fine, 1000 locals would already be 1000 eggs! In a long run, that’s a lot of lives!

I never thought I would ever witness this. All this while, in all turtle projects I have been to, the beaches are protected and turtle eggs are not so easily poached. However, at Perhentian, many beaches are accessible and they are not patrolled frequently. Looking back at the incident, I believe something could have been done in the future to prevent this from happening again, at least I do hope so! In my opinion, it is purely ignorant, lack of awareness and definitely the non-willingness to stop consuming. Although the locals have been eating turtle eggs for centuries, it is always a choice and they need to start to understand that nowadays every turtle egg is a life! The consumption of turtle eggs, in their opinion, is not the main factor contributing to population decline but whether they want to believe it or not, it definitely is one of the reasons to push turtles to the brink of extinction! Leatherback turtles can be considered locally extinct and if nobody gives a shit about protecting the eggs, it’s just a matter of time that the other species will face the same faith as the leatherback!

Turtle Alley

Although I have heard of Turtle Alley, my few visits back to Chinatown in my hometown, Kuala Terengganu, I never came across this alley. To be frank, it is not so noticeable from the main roads. This time I made it an effort to visit the Turtle Alley. If my parents weren’t there as my tour guide, I probably had to ask around or walk along the main street of Chinatown to locate it!

There is an entrance to the narrow Turtle Alley near the gateway at Chinatown, where one can see two dragons above it. There is a tiny sign that says Turtle Alley.

Along the alley, there are mosaic paintings of turtles, information on turtle species found in Malaysia, and metallic plates that tell a story of “Little Turtle Messenger” spreading turtle conservation awareness through the word of mouth. The walls looked rustic, presuming to leave the 200-years old building as it is. This, however, enhances the colourful patterns of every mosaic painting.

At the end of the alley or even the beginning, depending on which side of the alley one walks in first, there are a few quotes and information on turtle conservation.

Terengganu, the state, has been famous for turtles for decades. The leatherback turtle, which is almost locally extinct, used to be the state icon. Tourist from every part of the word used to visit Rantau Abang to see this magnificent creature but since the past few years, only 3-4 females came ashore to nest. Definitely not as good as seeing a real leatherback turtle, one can still see a replica of a leatherback turtle here. They are the largest of all turtles, measure approximately 2m in length and weigh about 600kg.

Besides, there is another interesting mosaic painting that says ‘I Love Penyu’ where one can stand behind and pop out his/her head to take a picture! Chinatown is like a heritage that represents the minority of Chinese in the state. It has its own history, values and characteristics that is worth to preserve. Turtle Alley, a really unique, interesting and educational place to check out while one visits Kuala Terengganu, adds in a conservation value to it!

I was also surprised but delighted to know that there is a blog for Turtle Alley which provides more information and current activities!