Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Perhentian Paradise?

Just back from a few days of lounging on the Perhentians , the jewel of Malaysia's islands. They definitely deserve their reputation, as the waters surrounding the islands are limpid and full of corals (for the most part alive), fish, turtles and, the main reason why I wanted to go, sharks! Yay, I finally got to fulfill my ambition of swimming with sharks. Of course they weren't maneaters (they were blacktip reef sharks), but their sleek, streamlined forms give even the babies an extremely menacing look. It took until this morning and getting up ridiculously early ("you mean there's a 7 o'clock in the morning as well?!") but it was all worth it when I got to see 5 beautiful forms passing just a metre in front of me.

Snorkelling was my mainstay during the 3 days that I was there and I found it very difficult to tire of it, when with each new sortie I would spot a new species of fish or type of coral. I was amazed by the green turtles that would let us hover around them as they calmly grazed on the algae on the sea floor; or the little clownfish (i.e. Nemo) hiding in their anemones that would attack me if I got too close, undaunted by the fact that they couldn't possibly even harm me.

Although I enjoyed myself immensely I also experienced one of the saddest things of my journey so far. One night one of the people working at the hotel came to us (most people were lounging around by the dining area) and told us that a turtle was laying eggs on a beach on the other side of the island. Everybody was very excited by the news and decided to head over to witness it for themselves (the hotel was very small so there were only about a dozen of us). By the time we got to the beach there were already a fair number of people there and they had scared off the turtle without it being able to lay any eggs. This turned out to be a bit of a blessing. A couple of Dutch guys and I decided to stay on the beach for a bit and chill out and in the following hour 3 separate groups of locals came up to the beach in their small boats and proceeded to hunt for turtle eggs (which luckily weren't there). Even though this was a national park and there were 3 tourists poking their noses into their business and telling them they shouldn't be doing that they still persisted. Seeing the mercenary attitude of these people made me realise that the turtles have absolutely no chance at all of surviving here. It's sad to see such a disregard for such a noble creature, but worse still it's sad to see the victory of short-term materialism over long-term gain and responsibility. For if the egg hunters are too successful they will eradicate turtles from their waters, which will mean that there will be no more eggs for them to sell; but what's more, it will greatly reduce the number of tourists that will come and visit and bring their money with them. Of course it's easy for me to say sitting behind my computer, but it is something that must be addressed right now if there is to be any hope. I really don't want mine to be the last generation to see these beautiful animals in the wild.

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