11 – 15 June
N4 36.021 E118 46.884 – Pulau Bohey Dulang
N4 37.586 E118 38.830 – Seaweed farming community
N4 44.678 E118 40.712 – Purse Seiner fishing grounds
Maybe it was our good vibes and positive aura. We got lucky this time in Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia. On to the second leg of our expedition, we visited, with our WWF Malaysia companions, Pulau Boheydulang. The Boheydulang Island is one of the islands in Tun Sakaran Marine Park, under the management of Sabah Parks.
WWF Semporna staff Myezana Ismat and Nina Ho led us on a friendly visit to the Sabah Parks Giant Clam Hatchery which is in collaboration with the Semporna Island Darwin Project by the Marine Conservation Society, with Hatchery Manager Bobita “Bita” Golam Ahad.
Upon meeting our WWF boat in the jetty of the research station, Bita excitedly told us that she finally has clam larvae in the tanks. Her clams just spawned! After several years of preparing for this, now the research station was geared towards rearing (with fingers crossed) thousands of clams, with the aim of reintroducing them into the wild someday—like after seven years?!
With our probing, Bita said there was still a last chance of the clams spawning on Saturday about 4 pm, four days after full moon. With permission from higher up, we joined her team underwater, and saw how scientists encourage clams to spawn. They were given serotonin in syringes, and the love potion of clams started to work a few minutes after application.
The sperm spurt out first, followed by the eggs. The technical staff of Bita catches the “precious” material in zip lock bags, and the love mix is done right away, hopefully someday developing into little baby clams.
We were also able to visit seaweed farms, which can be found in many parts of the Tun Sakaran Marine Park where there are shallow reefs and houses on silts on top of the reef. A big silt community in Sebangkat had healthy agar-agar (carrageenan seaweed) in different growth stages.
Finally, on our second to the last day in Semporna, we got permission to follow a purse seiner around from dusk to midnight.
With incredibly strong lights (I think I heard 16,000 watts) powered by a generator on the ship, the purse seine turned on their lights at 6 pm, and they stayed on till it was time to put out the massive nets at about 9 pm.
By 10 pm, they had their first night’s catch of mackerel scad (Decapterus russelli). The cheerful men were so easy to talk to, as we spoke the same language. Most, if not all of them, came from the Philippines, and when I spoke Tagalog, it was like being home.
The fish landing early in the morning saw the unloading of fish from all the purse seiners. Also in another area around the port, the tuna fishermen from Mabul sold their skipjacks and small yellowfin tuna for the local market. There were trucks with huge containers. One man I talked to was buying fish in Semporna to truck all the way to Kota Kinabalu, which was a 10-hour drive away.