When Tides are Low, Follow and Explore

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Walking on Peninsular Malaysia’s largest seagrass meadow was an amazing experience

Touring the Peninsular Malaysia’s largest Seagrass Meadow

“The tides won’t wait for you,” I was informed via text, to assemble at the “clubhouse” by 6am. I had been to the clubhouse once, but it was on a broad daylight sunny afternoon. Little did I know, this trip would allow me explore the life of the people in that little kampung in Mukim Tanjung Kupang, Johor.

I carefully navigated my way through the kampung with the help of my trusty phone, arriving on the dot with many others already there in orange life jackets. But my little driving adventure pales in comparison to the woman who greeted me. Serina Rahman, co-founder of the clubhouse, Kelab Alami, saw my footwear and began asking the youths about the shoes she had just bought. She was a city girl visiting the kampung about ten years ago to do marine research, but she turned that visit into her home instead.

A local fisherman picking up snails from the seagrass meadow (in the background, the grand Forest City)

Serina told me she had bought me shoes suitable for the walk. We were going to walk on a seagrass meadow and apparently only “Kampung Adidas” shoes were allowed – no boots, no sneakers, and definitely no slippers. Dive shoes were apparently the best.  The “Kampung Adidas” are black rubber shoes, waterproof, suitable for sticky situations. On the soles it stated my shoe size, though it felt half a size bigger. I shrugged it off, buckled my life jacket, and followed Serina in her car to the jetty.

A small makeshift hut was lit and I watched on how motherly the elderly woman served her few customers. They were perhaps fishermen taking a break, or just starting the day. I hopped onto a small boat, and our boatman who is also a fisherman by profession, trotted on the water, passing the mangroves, and under the Second Link-Tuas bridge. Soon enough, concrete jungles loomed on my sight. Industrial activity on my left in Singapore, and a new magnificent city; Forest City, on my right.

Lone seahorse spotted (pic courtesy of Steven C)

“People think that sea grasses are not important,” my enthusiastic guide, Afiqah, Manager of Kelab Alami, explained as the boat slowed down. I was surprised we were slowing down, and feelingconfused too, as I was just enjoying the mangrove greens, salty splashes on my lips and the breeze on my skin. “But they help to control the waves, to slow it down.”

“This is the biggest seagrass meadow in Peninsular Malaysia,” Afiqah announced. We were in the middle of the sea and I did not see what she was talking about. The boat moved closer and I saw it – long tangled greens in the middle of the sea. “We take off our life jacket, we go down, and we walk on the meadow,” she explained.

“Nope,” was my first initial thought. There was no way I was going to just jump off the boat – we were in the middle of the sea! Afiqah showed us how it’s done – true enough, water only reached up to our knees. The initial first steps on the seagrass meadow were not my favourite memory. I then understood the need for my shoes to be tight, so that the deep mud that I was sinking into won’t swallow my shoes. I was having a difficult time – I tripped and fell as I was unaccustomed to the mud’s density, and how my shoe kept slipping off my foot. Not only did I have to save myself, I had to rescue the shoes too.

Local boatmen, whose profession is fishing, waiting for us

Afiqah was a professional at handling this. She patiently pulled me out and yet still very enthusiastically gave me a tour. Peninsular Malaysia’s largest seagrass meadow with the length of 2km, the size of 5 football fields, was home to 10 species of seagrass and a diverse range of species. It supports the marine ecosystem – I saw sea cucumbers, anemones, starfishes and many more. The grass is greener on the other side, they say. The further I walked sturdier; the less muddy the ground was. We walked on some more and Afiqah gasped in amazement over almost everything she saw, as if it was her first time. Every day is a new experience to her.

“Dugong feeding trials!” she exclaimed. I asked her why was she so excited – she had been in the club for nine years, surely this was not a common sight to her. She explained that it means the seagrass meadow was thriving, that the dugongs were coming back to eat. It wasn’t like this during the development time, and this was her area of research.

We walked on to what seemed like forever and suddenly Afiqah, the observant, squealed, “Seahorse!”

Forest City seen from the waters

What a trained, sharp eye. A lone seahorse had curled its tail to a branch in the water. She told me we were lucky, as this was her first time (in nine years) spotting a seahorse. She said that seahorses were usually in groups or in pairs, it was uncommon they were alone. Soon enough we found another. I was concerned about the seahorse’s stress level – I chose to walk away with the other group towards the waiting boats. Later I heard they found fourteen other seahorses.

I went back to the boat as we were wrapping up our tour. This time with full sun, I was able to see the sea better and enjoy the view. However, it was not all an enjoyment because I also saw bottles and styrofoam boxes floating in the water, and it was not the locals that threw them into the water. It was litter washed off from shores, into the sea.

Fisherman’s catch from the meadow

Back at the clubhouse, light refreshments were served cooked by the local kampung people. That’s the whole idea of what Kelab Alami does with their tours. Run by local village youths, they support their local community. The fishermen whose income has dwindled with the development of the area is able to gain extra money from sending tourists in their boats. Women earn money from cooking for us. Local youths of the community gain scientific understanding of what is around them.

Despite having to wake up early, stumbling in the mud and losing my trusty phone to seawater, I would say the experience was worth it. I would come back. The Kelab Alami members are professional, knowledgeable, and most importantly, passionate about the environment.

Seagrass Habitat Walk is an experience offered by Kelab Alami at RM210/pax. Only when the tides are at their lowest could you experience the rich biodiversity and the magnificence of our own seagrass meadows. Kelab Alami also hosts other environmental and community heritage tours.

Visit their website http://kelabalami.weebly.com for more information.