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24 June 2013, Johor - Smoke. Indoors and outdoors, wherever we turned. The situation got worse by the minute. On board the night bus ride to Tanjung Leman jetty, we received news that the air pollution index in Johor had become hazardous. Oh please, let the air be much better on the island so that we can carry out our activities in peace.
Sadly, that was not the case as the jetty was blanketed by the haze and the pungent smell of smoke. We boarded the passenger boat to Pulau Tinggi, which we called home for the next three days. Navigating the boat by sight was nearly impossible as the combination of haze and fog made the surroundings looked like a scene from The Swamp Thing.
When we finally arrived at TAd Marine Resort, Pulau Tinggi, Johor, we were greeted by the emerald blue sea and white sandy beach. The scenery would have been perfect sans the haze. Oh well, might as well make the best of the condition and not dwell too much on the weather. We reap what we sow, and probably we deserved it due to the mistreatment that we made to Mother Nature.
A simple ceremony was held at the ballroom of the resort, officially launched by Dr Sukarno Wagiman, Director General, Department of Marine Parks Malaysia (Jabatan Taman Laut). A friendly and witty man in person, Dr Sukarno is a dive master and is passionate about environment conservation and creating awareness on the importance of the marine ecosystem. The Malakoff Coral Rehabilitation Project was organized in close partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE), the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia as well as the Department of Environment Malaysia. It was also a coincidence that Pulau Tinggi is one of the destinations for the turtles to lay their eggs.
Speaking of the event, Zainal Abidin Jalil, CEO of Malakoff said, “Malakoff has always been committed to work with its stakeholders to support our nation’s biodiversity. In reasserting our effort to protect the coral reefs, the Malakoff Coral Rehabilitation Project forms part of our long-term commitment under the company’s flagship Corporate Social Responsibility platform – the Malakoff Community Partnerships.”
“In addition, the concerted effort and sustained collaboration between Malakoff and its partners for the Project represents our effort to ensure that the marine ecosystem of our nation is protected and maintains the island’s attraction as a significant tourist destination,” he added.
After a sumptuous lunch, while the experienced divers were given a task to collect coral nubbins from the existing coral reef in Pulau Mentinggi, just off of Pulau Tinggi, the rest of the participants were forced to work out some sweat by carrying out group activities on the beach.
We were given a task to pick up loose pieces of metal frames from the boat jetty and carry them to be assembled on the beach. Once the metal frames were assembled, it took a shape of a large metal table, with 20 metal arms sticking out around the structure. In the actual activity that would take place the next day, 18 metal frames containing 320 units of fishbone-shaped artificial coral reefs made from ceramic materials called Enviro will be attached and tied to each arms of the metal tables.
These metal tables act as coral nurseries where they will be submerged and coral nubbins will be tied to it to transform it into artificial coral reefs. Phew, that was some task to be carried out in the evening when all of us were already exhausted from the trip! Imagine having to do that in the sea!
Day Two of the program started early in the morning, to take advantage of the calm sea. The divers were given a major task of carrying the metal frames and assembling them in the sea, the main purpose of the Malakoff Coral Rehabilitation 2013. A briefing on their upcoming task was done on the boat and they listened ardently to the instruction from the project manager. Subsequently, they jumped into the open sea one by one, with regulators in their mouths and oxygen tanks on their backs, ready to take on the challenge.
The non-divers, such as moi, watched in awe and wished we could dive in the sea to assist the divers in the task at hand. Isn’t it cool to be able to tell your grandkids that once upon a time, their grandparents had participated in a noble and selfless cause to rehabilitate coral reefs when they were younger!
Truly, the program touched the hearts of many that day. The sun-and-sea activities were interspersed with talks on marine ecosystem that really strike a chord in those that participated in the project. This was not just a project where they were able to dive or snorkel to see the jewels of the sea, but it was also to make them aware of the danger of human activities on the environment, especially on the coral reefs. With the sea making up 75% of the earth, it is also the largest source generating oxygen. Any damages made towards the marine ecosystem, especially the coral reefs, will affect the various organisms that depended on the sea to live.
The effects of damages done by humans on land, e.g. deforestation, rampant development, irresponsible waste disposal, also trickled to the sea. But that’s another story for another day. Although our effort is like a drop in the ocean, we can take pride in knowing that our small contribution has made a difference to the environment.
Before we left Pulau Tinggi for home on the last day, we were told that some sea turtle hatchlings had hatched from their nest that morning. We were given the honour of releasing the hatchlings to the sea as our final agenda in the program. It was a first time for most of us and everyone were laughing and goofing around with the hatchlings, holding and taking pictures with them. However, it was a poignant moment at the edges of the water as we put the hatchlings on the sand and let them scuttle towards the crashing waves, into the open sea. Deep in our hearts, we knew that the chances of the fragile creatures to reach its adulthood are slim and not many will return to the shores of Pulau Tinggi to lay its eggs.
Hats off to all the volunteers, from the project team to the participants, for their dedication and perseverance in making sure that the objectives of this program were achieved and knowing that we were a part of a good deed in aid of Mother Nature.