Tea and Coral Biscuits for SCUBA Wrecks
Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
201Trip End Ongoing
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Before we got to Lang Tengah we had a night in Terrenganu, a pretty small Malaysian town with not much to see, so the next morning we were picked up early by a taxi and had a shopping list of provisions needed for the island. Beer and cement, you would think that this would be a simple shopping list, sadly given that it was a Friday and nothing opens before 10am we made our way onto the boat to Lang Tengah empty handed. As we were on the resort speedboat with some genuine hotel guests we put on our life jackets and relaxed ready for a nice crossing. We should not have relaxed. This boat seemingly had the motor on the wrong end as it hit every wave like a brick wall sending the waves crashing over us and our bags
So with no time to spare we set to work, dive kit on and we were given a tour of the house reef and the bottle reef that had been created so far. What a treat to see our workplace for the first time and we were lucky enough to see a huge black tip reef sharks,a huge puffa, a proper giant morey and so many more. The highlight of this first dive was pointing the giant morey out to Tim, he got closer and closer and closer looking for the usual little moreys that we see when he finally found what he was looking for and actually jumped back as the Morey the thickness of an adult leg was just a few inches from his face. Note to Tim, when I make the sign for "Big Morey", I mean it!!
So despite all the amazing fish, we were actually here to focus on something else, the coral. Most of you probably think that coral is just underwater rock. Well you are wrong. Coral is actually a marine invertebrate made up of millions of little living individuals known as polyps. When you look at coral close up, you will see lots of little bumps, these are the polyps. Most corals live at depths of less than 60 meters in warm water and require sunlight to survive. So many factors are causing the coral to die such as the ever changing sea levels leaving corals exposed to too much sunlight which kills them, pollution from boats and hotels affects the algae which can smother the coral, damage from careless divers and snorkelers and crown of thorn starfish which suffocate the coral. Corals form homes and provide food to so many fish that without them the oceans are not going to be the beautiful natural aquariums that we are so used to snorkelling in for much longer if we don’t find a way to help the coral survive
So this is where TRACC (Tropical Research And Conservation centre)comes in! Our aim is to try and help the coral to survive by various tried and tested techniques. Firstly Coral Biscuits, these are small palm sized pieces of cement that that have either a live piece of coral planted in whilst in the sea, or a zip tie attached and then the coral planted when we are in the ocean. Secondly bottle reef, here we make large cement blocks and plant 6 beer or wine bottles in, these are then launched into place from the boat and cable ties are used to attach pieces of coral. Who knew we would become expert cement mixers on this trip!
The coral that we use to attach to the biscuits and bottles are branches which have already been broken from the main structures (either by storms, divers or just gravity), we like to call these “corals of opportunity”. If we were to leave these they would get covered in sand, broken by the tides and would die. By using these branches to break down and attach to our biscuits and bottles we are securing them and giving them the best possible chance of survival.
It was amazing how quickly the little damsel fish and red bellied wrasse moved into bottle reef and got closer and closer to us as we were working. By the end of the month they were so used to us, we had one angry damsel fish who despite being the size of my thumb spent the entire 60 minutes we were underwater swimming at our masks trying to tell us who was boss, she even bit Tim’s sock. The wrasse on the other hand were much more friendly and just wanted to nibble the freshly snapped coral, we were so close to hand feeding one Wrasse.
One problem with coral is that it is very easily stressed and when you hold it and touch it (as is required when you are tying it to a bottle) some species eject slime onto your hands which literally becomes glue. Tim was such a little princess he couldn’t handle this coral without gloves!
We had one dive where we decided to move some of the coral biscuits that had been planted as we decided that they were a little shallow and needed to be deeper, we were getting batter at carrying bricks underwater so set to inflating our BCDs to carry and deflating to drop. We were just relocating the biscuits when a tiny sea worm of some sort popped off of one of the biscuits and ejected tentacles as a defence. Tim immediately stopped what he was doing and refused to touch anything until he had his gloves on, sissy!
As we were diving so much we took the opportunity to progress our dive qualification and move on to the PADI Advanced Open Water qualification, this requires 5 speciality dives of which deep, and navigation were compulsory and there are a selection of others to choose from the most usual being Peak Performance Buoyancy, Wreck and Night
Living on Lang Tengah was amazing, in such a quiet hotel with mainly Chinese guests it was pretty difficult to interact but we did our best to try and involve people with the coral project. Our brain child was the Fortune Cookie! We figured that sponsoring just one coral biscuit for 10RM (£2) so you could write your name or a message and plant it at the bottom of the ocean making a wish and planting a coral. This went off to a pretty slow start but when we had a large dive group at the resort, with the aid of some beers to lubricate them we managed to sell 85 biscuits (pretty much every coral biscuit that we had made). We felt good, they felt good, and the carpet of coral biscuits looked amazing!
Whilst we spent the vast majority of our time working hard diving, making cement for the bottle reef and hovering at the bottom of the ocean planting coral there was still plenty of time for a sunset beer, watching the baby sharks off the pier, cocktails and beers at Summerbay resort to 'enjoy’ their live entertainment and of course there were a few fun dives to see the area and have a rest from working
The best treat was our last few days Guy visited from KL, one of the dive shop owners and whilst he was keen to see the work we had done he was also keen to show us some of the less visited dive sites. Armed with his rib we set off and had some of the most amazing fun dives. We visited a site called yellow coral which is teeming with soft yellow corals and huge shoals of fish. Tim was so busy practicing his buoyancy to see how well he could look at things upside down he managed to get his tank tangled in the beautiful coral and required me to untangle him, seriously you can’t take him anywhere. We visited the wreck again, which was so different as the visibility was terrible, so bad in fact that I didn’t even realise that I had made it down to the bottom of the ocean until a nurse shark shot past me to get back under the boat. The highlight of this dive was having Jerry with us, he runs the dive shop and has supersonic vision. He found me 2 frog fish which made my year and a whole wall full of tiny scorpion fish. Our last fun dive was another deep one to a set of stone ledges, visibility is notoriously bad at this site so we were utterly astonished to have 20meter visibility. Looking under the ledges again we were treated to a whole sea floor full of nurse sharks resting for the day. There was just about time for one more dive and guess what was proposed a night dive… much to Stef’s surprise both Tim and I jumped at the chance and this time Tim relaxed and loved it
After an amazing month of snorkelling, diving and saving the planet one coral at a time we had a farewell dive to say goodbye to all our residents on the house reef and new bottle reef. Almost unbelievably we had a one visitor that we had not seen on the reef during our stay pop by,,,, a beautiful hawksbill turtle.
Unsurpisingly we had to have a farewell party so we headed off to Summerbay with our list of song requests for the band. They were pleased that we were actually liking and requesting the few Chinese songs that we knew and they did their best to play everything we asked them for even if they did need to read the words from their iPhones as they played. As we had finished our Advanced Open Water, we had to complete the obligatory “Snorkel Test” to complete our qualification. This requires wearing a dive mask, putting the snorkel in your mouth and having a beer poured down the snorkel. This largely resulted in beer going everywhere except down our throats, and thankfully everyone fancied a go so we all ended the night wearing beer soaked clothes (except for Stef who was some kind of snorkel test ninja) but a good night was definitely had by all.
It was time to leave Lang Tengah after a month of island solitude to head back to the bright lights and the big city of KL. Guy kindly offered to take us back with him so we had a short trip on the rib and a car journey home to look forward to. The boat had amazingly survived the night in tact after being beaten for many nights before in storms and the journey across to the mainland was dry and comfortable, very unlike the journey over
Huge thanks to TRACC, Scuba Yu, Sari Pacifica and Stef for giving us an amazing experience!
We did have a few days in KL to adapt to reality before our onward travels so we enjoyed a night on the tiles with Guy and I even managed to catch up with Marcus an old uni friend who I hadn’t seen for 10 years. All in all I think we can say it was a good month in Malaysia.
Next stop Indonesia!