Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ugly Side of Langkawi Mangrove Tours Part I - Mat Rempits

Tourists visiting Langkawi were told that their visit will not be complete without having experienced the island's magical mangroves. Very true. 
When a tourist arrives at Langkawi airport or jetty, the tourist will be handed with flyers after flyers for things to do on the island. Pick up any one of those flyers and these words will be staring at your face. "Mangroves Cruise"; "Mangroves Safari";"River Cruise";"Fish Farm";"Bat Cave";"Crocodile Cave" and the worst "Eagle Feeding". With such heavy promotions and raving about the mangroves, tourists would definitely be  looking forward to partake in it. Tourists can pick a boat from the Kilim or Tanjung Rhu jetty and will be enthralled by a two or three hour ride even without a guide onboard.
Langkawi was bestowed with the land and sea forests surrounded by prehistoric fossils and rock formations since some millions of years ago. Her mangroves were groomed well with the amazing karstic features of Setul formation that formed about 45o million years ago. Having such blessed natural heritage, Langkawi has became popular among the tourists that love to spend their holiday relaxing in the serenity of nature. The result of the high influx of tourists to the island has created many lucrative job opportunities for the locals. Over the years, many of the locals that were into fisheries and agriculture had embarked into tourism related jobs such as taxi, bus drivers, restaurant and boat operators. Then gradually, Langkawi has gained a higher status to become a UNESCO heritage site in mid 2007 and is now known as Langkawi Geopark. 
With the Geopark status, the amount of tourists coming in has doubled or if not, almost tripled. This benefits the island with such huge economic boom and yet I am witnessing the sufferings of Langkawi's flora and fauna that they have to bear daily.

Great supply of tourists resulted in mushrooming of operators particularly for the mangroves. The latest craze was the 1km traffic congestion at Kilim jetty due to tourists waiting for availability of boats to take them out. Welcome to the school holidays and festive season!

While there were lots of tourists waiting to go for the mangroves tour, boat skippers were often instructed to cover a route with various stopovers very quickly and to return to jetty for the next tourists pickup. As such, these boats will speed like F1 drivers in the mangroves so they can make as many trips as they can for a day. More trips=more $$$.
No doubt that mangroves are able to adapt in the soft unstable soil. However, constant slamming of waves created by the speeding boats will accelerate the action of mud to be washed off from the banks causing sediments run-off. The consequences will be erosion that had caused some of the trees to collapse. Sediments run-off can pose hazard to the health of the coral reefs that reside along the coastal areas. Mud carried out to the sea by the current will eventually be settled onto the reefs, shading the reefs from sunlight and eventually killing them. 

Speeding boats not only pose hazards to the mangroves forest but also to other users of the mangroves such as the slower boats and kayaks. There were incidents whereby speeding boats turning into the sharp corners had collided with other boats. Luckily there were no mishaps.
There was another  incident whereby a boat was almost tipped over by big waves caused by an overloaded twin-engine boat that was speeding like Michael Schumacher. Because these operators are now so used to speeding in the mangroves, this habit had been formed and  is hard to die. They even speed during the low tourists season.
This is what I find difficult for me to understand about locals here. Tourists make their way to Langkawi because of what the island can offer best. Langkawi will never be a destination for shopping even though it is a duty free island because people come here for nature.  If these operators are allowed to continuously behave like "Mat Rempit" in the mangroves, all I can say is that these locals are breaking their own rice bowls. Check out what Mat Rempit means.
The good news is that there are also responsible companies offering passionate nature guides that conduct nature excursions in an ethical manner. You will expect to pay more for these excursions, however, the investment you make will return you with educational and informative experiences and not just fun boat joy rides. Example of a company will be 
This is the first part of this topic of my blog. Coming next will be my viewpoints on eagle feeding, wildlife feeding and what influences tourists have over ecotourism.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Must Watch Movie Before 2010

Avatar - A truly remarkable movie reflecting the true events that had already happened or is happening around us today in this world. Is there such a hero like Jake Sully in reality? May be there is. Of course, Hollywood exaggerated how the hero won the battle. The story tells us how a Mat Salleh (white man) made his way into the indigenous rainforest tribes and being accepted into the tribe in a short span of time. Not only just being accepted as part of the tribe but made as a leader too.

In reality, there is really such a Mat Salleh that portrayed the Jake Sully character. And this Mat Salleh is Bruno Manser.

The Swiss guy who came to rescue the Sarawak's indigenous Penan people from losing their precious rainforest to logging. Bruno's anti-logging activities had become a pest to the Malaysian government and henceforth, Bruno became the public enemy number one. Bruno did not have the same fate like the exaggerated hero Jake Sully. He did not win the battle nor did he marry the daughter of the tribal head. Bruno became a wanted man and he either went missing or dead. Up till now, the world do not know the whereabout of Bruno. Bruno may not be as lucky as Jake Sully but Bruno did make an impact by drawing the world's attention on the deforestation of our precious rainforest. Read more on Penan's plight

Avatar, the movie, is a true reflection of us and how greed can turn homosapiens into murderers of native people just to harvest or rob the precious mineral rocks. This reminds me of a friend who told me about Congo and the killings for cobalt and diamonds. Read more on What the world owes Congo

In summary, Avatar  did leave some impact on me. It has sort of given me the inspiration to take a step towards being an activist. Me an activist? That will be a thousand miles journey before I can even get to the amateur stage for I have yet to discover this thing called "COURAGE". Never mind, I will watch Avatar again.

Ignore what the critics said about this movie and what good or bad stuffs that James Cameron had done. Just watch this movie. To the people who love development and destroying the rainforest, it will be a sin for you if you don't watch this movie.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Lucky Bat, perhaps?

A rather early morning bike ride had led me to into the paddy field between Nyior Cabang and Ulu Melaka. I usually ride on the main road but this morning I was curious to check out the off-roads in between the paddy field area. About less than 200 meters, I arrived at the T-junction and I couldn't decide which turning to take. So, I stop to look at the pipit birds on the ground while two Mat Salleh cyclists came from the other direction. I watched them cycled away towards the main road and I decided to go where they were coming from. About 50 meters, I stopped at the funny looking flowering plant (left).
Soon after, I cycled for another 20 meters and saw the netting set up by the locals. I was silently condemning these netting and then I noticed something black was caught on the net. It was still moving and immediately I knew it was a bat.

I always had my rescue knife with me whenever I am at work and not today...grr..grr...grrr.. I only had a set of bicycle toolkit and that is useless for cutting the net. I tried a sharp rock, didn't work. I tried untangling the net very slowly and only managed one side of it. The other side was badly entangled. I decided to rip  the net around it with my bare hands. Finally I did and not feeling guilty at all in leaving a huge hole on the net. 
I saw a barn about 100 meters away and a car parked on the other direction. Instead, I decided to cycle towards the barn to look for something to cut the rest of the entangled net on one side of its wing. While still carrying the bat on one hand, suddenly I remembered I left my bicycle toolkit at the scene and decided to turn back. As I was turning back, I decided to get human help by cycling towards the car.
I noticed two old gentlemen (Pakciks) were crouching on the ground looking at the field. I asked them for a cutter and showed them the bat. Both of them didn't have any cutter and one of the pakcik wearing the white cap (kepah) took out his lighter. Ah, a smoker. Probably this is the only time I appreciate having a smoker around. He gently burn off the strings and looked like he had done this before. The bat was in pain and trying to bite when removing the last bit that wrapped around the bony joint of its wing. I had to hold the other side of its wing and pull its  head so the bat doesn't bite the finger of the helper.  
Finally, it was released! The bat hobbled on the ground for a couple of seconds before it took off into the air. We watched it flew away towards the hill until it was out of sight. Hope that this bat will survive after the struggling and exhaustion. I was so excited of its release that I didn't get to take the full picture of the bat. Aiya! oh well...

This bat is identified as a common fruit bat. The closest species I can identify is it may be  Short-nosed Fruit Bat (Cynopterus spp.). Fruit bats are important dispersers of many pioneer forest trees, thus aiding forest regeneration after disturbance. These fruit bats breed throughout the year in Malaysia, mainly when food is most abundant. 

Glad to know that are lovely local people around. These pakciks are the owners of the paddy field. After a quick chat with them, I thanked the bat saviour, particularly the pakcik on the left. I headed towards the barn and it was a good thing that I didn't go there because there were only cows inside.

Reference: A Photographic Guide to Mammals of South East Asia by Charles M.Francis

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Behind the Scene of Yummy, Crunchy Soft-Shell Crabs

When crabs grow larger, their shells or carapaces (or exoskeletons) will not be able to accommodate their sizes because their shells will not grow. They must remove the shells and grow a new and bigger ones. This process is known as molting. They molt the exteriors or exoskeletons and have soft coverings for a few days. At this stage, they are now soft-shell crabs until their soft coverings harden. 
In the wild, molted crabs are vulnerable to predators such as stingrays, larger fishes or even fall prey to cannibalism. During this stage, molted crabs will normally find shelter from the predators by hiding in between rocks. That is why it is difficult to catch soft-shell crabs in the net.
Ever wonder how your deep fried crunchy soft-shell crabs made their way to the restaurants and then onto your plate? If you think these soft-shell crabs are caught wild, please allow me to enlighten you.
Indeed that these crustaceans were initially from the wild either caught in the traps or fishing nets.  In the beginning, these crustaceans were juvenile or sub-adult crabs with their hard shells still intacted. Since these crabs were too young to be eaten like ordinary crabs, why not turn them to soft-shell crabs? To do the conversion, these juveniles will have to go through three stages:

Stage 1: TORTURE
Juvenile crabs' walking legs and claws are pulled out. Only the paddling legs remain untouched to allow them to swim around in the enclosure. There is a reason to the legs been pulled out.

   Legless male (left) and female (right) crabs . Note the swimming crabs in the tank.

These juevys will be in an enclosure tank with sea water and oxygen pump. They will be in there for frequent checks on signs on the areas where the legs were detached. As a juvenile crab begins to grow bigger, the areas of the detached legs will become swollen.
Note the swollen patches on the legless areas. With such indication, the juvenile crab will be going through molting stage soon, probably between two to five days.

When the juvenile crab has detached its hard shell, it must be removed from the tank within 24 hours. If possible, the earlier the better. If the molted crab takes too long to be removed from the tank, the new exoskeleton will harden and this will lower the quality.  A small translucent plastic bag is ready where the molted crab will be inserted. The tight space in the plastic bag will stop the crab from moving too much. The bag will be folded and then straight into the freezer. The frozen soft-shell crab will be stored in the freezer until more of its comrades follow its fate before being sold to the restaurants.

Harvesting soft-shell crabs is one of the fishery industries being practised in Kuala Gula, Perak. I am sure there must be other way to "harvest" soft-shell crabs in different areas. If anyone have witnessed other methods of process, do share with us.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

The 350.org Sign

I received a text message on previous Friday afternoon from Ai asking if we should do the 350.org sign at the airport fence. Me being blur as usual, I answered her, "What 350.org?" and Ai told me to check my email. After reading Ai's email and I started to google what is 350.org all about. Ooohhh.... ahhhh... how come I didn't know about this earlier?

So, the mission was on that night itself. Ai strongly wanted that night itself because the following day will be the last day of Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) and there will be more people passing by the area. We gathered recyclable materials like aluminium cans and plastic bottles. Thank you M for that! We now know the purpose of these "usable rubbish" you have kept for so long.

Ai, M, a long lost friend from KL and myself headed to the airport where the Laksa Power stall is. That area was so filthy with rubbish like plastic cups, styrofoams "white coffin", food wrappers and etc thrown all over the stalls area. Extra stalls were set up for public spectators that wanted to have free viewing of the aerospace display.

Our initial plan was to stuff these recyclable items into the fence holes to create a 350.ORG sign. Ai thought that the holes for all similar fences would have the standard diameter or size. Not quite right. The holes at the airport fence were so small that an aluminium can cannot even be pushed through. Plan A aborted and we had to use the fence opposite of the airport. The holes were bigger.

Our work began in the dark. There was quite a heavy flow of traffic passing by and luckily no one stop to check on us. Phew!

Ladies at work...
In about half an hour, we did it! 


On the next morning, M cycled to the same spot to check and take a picture in the daylight. Half of the "0" was blown by the wind.

Later that afternoon, all rubbish were cleared and the 350.org sign as well. We wonder how many people would notice that. Well, I ain't an absolute "green person" and I surely had fun doing it. We were not guilty about adding on more rubbish to the site. The collector must be happy to have extra cleaned aluminium cans and plastic bottles to be recycled.

To learn more about the current and a very important conference on Planet Earth, read Copenhagen Climate Summit and 350.org.

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