OCEAN QUEST

DIVING WITH PURPOSE

Exploring Malaysia's Little Galapagos Island

With Christmas just around the corner people seem hectic with shopping and travelling and we are just about to embark in an exploratory trip to unravel the secrets of a distant island. A trip that was hampered and postponed by bad weather last month is finally on its way again. We are a month delayed but we made it nonetheless. The morning is filled with last minute checks and calls. The team arrives at different times from different gateways and we are to assemble at Royal Langkawi Yacht Club. Grey weather with showers greeted us in Langkawi. Despite flight delays I arrived early for research preparations. Things I left out from the flight like distill water and batteries are purchased in Langkawi.


In the team there are three researchers, a photographer, a videographer, a cruise director and an expedition leader. This expedition has been a gathering of few passionate divers and researchers that converged in an exploration under the flagship of Bina Darulaman Berhad. Our goal is to assess and document as much information about marine biodiversity on this location. The entire expedition from beginning until the end is also logged for feasibility study. As a result of this expedition a sixty page report is put together and archived for future reference at the National Library.


Left: Cover of the publication


Above: Illustration of South Manta Alley, Pulau Perak

Pulau Perak

Perak in Malay language means silver. This island is once barren inhabited only by sea birds. The dropping covered its cliffs and given it a silvery sheen when seen from afar. This has earned the island its name Pulau Perak or Silver Island. The name has nothing to do with the state of Perak which most are confused with. Today the soil and seeds brought in by the birds has changed the face of the island giving its upper reaches lush vegetation. Pulau Perak is 0.57 km in length in its longest cross section from North to South and 0.39 km at its widest section from East to West. The island is located 66 nautical miles (122.3 km) southwest of Royal Langkawi Yacht Club in Pulau Langkawi. Pulau Perak is an offshore island belongs to Malaysia. It is situated in the margin of two important seas namely Straits of Malacca and Andaman Sea.

The Journey

We embark on a night passage from Langkawi to Pulau Perak. Braving high seas with swells up to 5 meters took us nine hours to the location. We are on Mighty Ventures a fifty footer wooden hull offshore cruiser. It is a well equipped boat for this passage. For diving purpose Mighty Ventures tows a small dive tender named Mini Ventures. In the heavy swells Mini Venture’s tow hook breaks and the journey is temporarily interrupted for its retrieval. The brave crew swims the high swells to recover Mini venture. At break of dawn we lay our first sight of Pulau Perak. The sea continued to resist as we inch our way to the island. Almost three hours after sighting the island we finally enter the west bay. We have made it safely to Pulau Perak. There is a congregation of fishing vessels sheltering inside the west when we arrive. All mooring is taken and we get permission to tie alongside a fishing boat. It is a breath of relieve to have been in the shelter, tied and settled. From here on the fun and underwater adventure begins.

Diving in Pulau Perak
All dives we made in this expedition are on the west side of the island. Sea surface condition on the east side did not permit safe diving at the time. The island is surrounded by high cliffs that drop to hundreds of meters below the surface. Meaning, all dives here are wall dives and there are some shallow ridges with healthy coral reefs. In this expedition we establish and segmented four sites with distinct key attractions. At the South Manta Alley steep cliffs drops to a ridge at thirty five meters before plunging further into the deep abyss. Seafan and soft corals scattered on the walls and plate corals colonize the shallow slopes. We encountered our first manta here that stayed with us until the end of the dive. It is one of our vivid experience seeing tiny white flickers from the blue as the ray comes in and with gentle and lazy flap of its wing it inch closer to us almost colliding before rolling upwards making a back flip. Two claspers on the base of its tail indicate that this one is a male. He is a big boy with approximately ten feet wing span. It is a mesmerizing encounter. Later in our following dive we encountered more manta in the North Manta Alley. At night the overhangs and walls and shallow reefs become a bustling city filled with night life.
 

Here we finally found a lobster wall filled with lobsters! We named the site Lobster Wall. At the Anemone City we found the species of Skunk Anemonefish Amphiprion sandaracinos that is unique to the area. This anemonefish is not the same as the Skunk Anemonefish Amphiprion periderion found east coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

Conservation

The time of this expedition is now filled to the brim. We will surely come back to explore more areas in the east side. We hope that with this exposure we can help bring awareness for the people to conserve our undersea heritage. We observed that the island lacks predatory fishes and grazers. We have yet to be able to find the actual cause of decline of the predatory fishes. Perhaps over fishing is threatening this island just like other areas. We believe with proper governance this island has great potentials. But it can only last for as long as it environment could sustain. With the support of our friends and the diving community it can be done. Until we could make more exploration and observations we can only hope that things will improve at Malaysia’s Little Galapagos Island – Pulau Perak.

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