Saturday, May 3, 2008

Fishing Trip Part 1 (April 2008)

I have not been fishing since 2004. I always missed the fishing trips organized by my faculty's hardcore fishermen - Arshad, Wijay and Adnan (the Three Musketeers?) due to work obligations. Therefore it was a surprise for me to join them for the fishing trip to P. Tioman and P. Pemanggil from 17 to 20 April 2008. Five others joined us this time, Mat Hussin Yunnan, Aidee of CEPP, Tholudin of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering (FKM), Awaluddin also of FKM but now rthe Director of BATC and Rosliza of UIAM (his name kept us confused for a while).

We met at Adnan's house in Bandar Putra, Kulai around 6 pm. His wife cooked some nice kuih and laksa Penang. It was pretty good as our 'gourmand' Wijay finished a couple of bowls of the laksa! We drove to Mersing in two cars - Mat Hussin's Proton Waja and Adnan's  Toyota Unser. Ate dinner at the seafood restaurant not far from the jetty. Aidee was already there after a lecture in Mersing earlier in the day. Awaluddin and Rosliza arrived about 30 minutes later, driving from Kuala Lumpur via Kluang and FELDA Nitar.

We did our solat obligations at the surau of the Mersing Jetty Complex and later we load up our luggage, fishing gear and food supply on Abang Daud's boat. We set out of the Sg. Mersing estuary around 1030 pm. The sea was relatively smooth but we observed lightnings in the distance and later there were drizzles. Some of us slept in the "sleeping quarters" but it was limited to 5 to 6 people. So, I slept at the rear of the boat, waking when the drizzle got a bit heavy.

Some of the hardcore fishermen tried fishing at night close to Kg. Mukut of Pulau Tioman, so I moved to the "sleeping quarters". The roll of the boat made me seasick even though I took a motion sickness tablet before we set out. It got worse that I could not sat up to do the Subuh prayers. Therefore, the boatman tried to dock at Mukut's jetty but failed due to strong waves. He moved the boat to another jetty south of Mukut. The jetty is only for tourists going to the waterfalls - there were no houses here.

There was a nice small stream nearby that we eagerly used to bathe our grime and seasickness away. After a quick breakfast of bread, kaya and jam plus coffee, we set out to one of the "unjam" to start our fishing

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Environment - Sungai Pulai

This article was written to comment on the refusal of the Department of Environment (DOE), Malaysia to request a couple of large industries in Sg. Pulai estuary to carry out a detailed EIA (DEIA) instead of just preliminary EIA (PEIA) of the impacts of the projects on the environment.


Sungai Pulai is an important, estuarine river in Johor. The term “estuarine” river is used because of the relatively very little freshwater inflows. The freshwater inflows are mostly from Sg. Pulai itself, which begins from Gunung Pulai and flows through Kangkar Pulai. Other small, freshwater streams include Sg. Gelang Patah and Sg. Ulu Choh. Most freshwater from Gunung Pulai is also diverted via reservoirs and large diameter pipes to Singapore.

Due to the estuarine conditions, the water quality is basically influenced by the tidal flows and ebbs from the Selat Tebrau.

Ecological and Socio Economic Importance

Sungai Pulai is the largest mangrove system in Johor State. With its associated seagrass beds, intertidal mudflats and inland freshwater riverine forests (G. Pulai), the site represents one of the best examples of a lowland tropical river basin, supporting a rich biodiversity dependent on mangroves. Sg. Pulai estuary is designated as Ramsar site no. 1288.

There are also other seagrass areas outside the Ramsar site including the Tanjung Adang sites and especially the Pulau Merambong seagrass site, which is the largest seagrass area in Peninsular Malaysia at 36 hectares. These seagrass sites support a unique ecosystem that include seahorses and dugong (sea cow), a relative of the Florida manatee.

The mangroves are also important as the breeding grounds of fishes. The destruction of the mangroves as well as the deterioration of the water quality of the Sg. Pulai estuary would directly affect the fish catches of the fishermen in the area especially the coastal fishermen.

Several zones near the Gelang Patah area are also designated as the aquaculture zones, which mostly use the cage culture and the pond culture methods. The deterioration of the water quality in the Sg. Pulai estuary would also affect the aquaculture industry directly.

Increased sea traffic also increased the wave action in the Sg. Pulai estuary and in the Selat Tebrau. Effect of increased erosion can be seen at Tanjung Piai National Park.

Large Development in the Sg. Pulai Watershed

The two major developments that were already completed are the Port of Tanjung Pelepas and the coal-powered 1200 MW power plant at Tanjung Bin, which is operated by Malakoff.

Two new proposed large developments include the Asia Petroleum Hub (APH), which will construct a man-made island in the estuary, and Seaport Worldwide Sdn. Bhd. proposed 2,255 acres of Petrochemical and Maritime Industries next to the Tg. Bin Power Plant.
The later project has submitted a Comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment report to the DOE while APH just submitted a preliminary EIA (PEIA) although the launch has already being officiated by the Prime Minister. Both CEIA and PEIA need only the DOE, Johor to approve with comments from the various relevant agencies in the state.

Course of Actions Needed to Protect Sg. Pulai

The EIA reports (both PEIA and CEIA) were only reported to the DOE, Johor with the assistance of both Federal and State Agencies such as DID, Fisheries Dept., Forestry Dept etc. but without any inputs from the expert panel members such as in a Detailed EIA (DEIA) reporting process, which is controlled by the DOE HQ. There are also no provisions for the comments from the public, whereby the DEIA reports are publicly displayed in the state libraries and DOE offices for two weeks. The display of the DEIA reports in those said places are announced in the newspapers, usually Utusan Malaysia and New Straits Times (NST).

The expert panel members are experts in the various disciplines of science and engineering related to the environment and independently appointed by the DOE HQ from the various organizations such as the public and private universities, the government agencies and even independent consultants. At least one NGO panel member would be also appointed such as from FOMCA, WWF, MNS etc. The DEIA process is therefore a more comprehensive process whereby all angles and problems are looked into as the impacts from such large projects would be large and long-termed.

The consultants for the newly proposed projects in the Sg. Pulai watershed also used very minute technical discrepancies to allow them to submit a PEIA or CEIA. For example, only reclamation of an area facing the sea (coast) needs a DEIA but not for an area in a RIVER, although Sg. Pulai estuary is more like a BAY than a river! The area of reclamation needs to be 50 hectares or larger too.

In the case of the proposed Seaport Petrochemical and Maritime Industries, the area would be taking in various kinds of heavy industries that would all need EIA reports. So, it is better to go ahead with a DEIA process to begin with.

Cumulative Impacts of All Projects to Sg. Pulai

Detailed EIA (EIA) reports are necessary as the impacts from the various industries would be accumulative i.e. additive or even worse negatively synergistic. Although each project indicates there would not be any negative impacts to Sg. Pulai, but in the long run when all the projects became reality, the impacts would be cumulative and cause great harm to the ecosystem.

Therefore, the process needed for the proposed Iskandar Development Region (IDR) within and without Sg. Pulai watershed would be a macro detailed EIA (macro DEIA), whereby ALL the impacts from the proposed industries and population growth would be considered at the same time. Each individual projects still have to carry out the DEIA if necessary. Only then the ecosystems within the Sg. Pulai region as well as IDR would be protected for the future generations.

Tenaga National Killed My Kois

I knew that Saturday 29 March 2008 was supposed to be Earth Hour, whereby some cities in the world turned off unessential power usage for one hour at 8 pm. Unfortunately or maybe coincidently, some thieves stole cables from a few TNB distribution buildings near my area (Taman Pulai Utama). At least three areas were hit around 830 pm.

Although we reported the incident early, we were the last taken care off. From a senior TNB technician, who was also in the same PIBG committee with me, I was told only at 1230 am that our case was taken care off. By then, my nine kois in the small ponds were giving out loud sounds when they tried to breath from the surface instead of using their gills.

My family and I forgo sleep and took turns to create a manual aeration using our bathroom "cebok"(small buckets). Omar was energetic and actually refused to stop although he was tired. We had to do the cebok thing for a couple of hours before power was revived around 230 am. We manage to revive six but three of the kois died.

We would be writing a formal letter to TNB asking for compensation for the dead kois.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Although most Malays in the District of Bachok boasted they have pure Malay blood, the truth is not really verified as foreigners also came to the Bachok shores from China, Cambodia (Kemboja) and Thailand. There are small villages of naturalized Chinese in Bachok such as Kg. Pengkalan China (Chinese Wharf village), Kg. Bekelam and Kg. Balai. These villagers are indistinguishable from other Malay villagers as they speak the Kelantanese dialect and even the elder males wearing the sarong and the "semutar" (headdress). Some might noticed that their house has a higher roof than the Malay house roof. They practice the Taoist religion mixed with animism.

The name Bachok came from a Thai word "Ban" or "Barn" which means village and "Chok" which means the dried shoots of the nipah palm (Nypa fruticans)used to roll local cigarettes. Sg. Kemasin was rich with nipah palm and the Thai even came far south to get their supply of "chok".

Thai or Siamese cultural influence is inevitable. Traditional houses built using the termite resistant "cengal" wood has Siamese influence with its reddish roof tiles. The dance drama "Mak Yong" is influenced by the Thai version called "Menora" (Manohra). The ancestors of the present Sultan even brought in Manohra troupes from Bangkok. They were given properties and land near present day Tumpat.

Within this cultural polyglot, my great, great,grandfather on my father's side came to Bachok shores from probably the Fujian Province, China. He converted to Islam and married my great, great, grandmother. He used his Malay name of Awang Nik and we never knew of his surname. Until today, the slanted eyes of the Chinese would cropped up among our relatives from one generation or the other.

The Malay tradition of using only the first name without a surname or family name made it hard to trace our lineage. Education was also a luxury, so not many children have the privilege. Children were taught how to survive, to work in field. During those days, parents concluded that children only needed how to read the Quran by rote and how to pray and other knowledge for a person to be good Muslim.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Autobiography - Introduction

I first thought that an actual autobiography would be good reading for my children and grandchildren but it seems that a blog will do as well. I can edit add whatever comes to my mind as I go along.

I was born in Kg. Kelerek, Jajahan Tanjung Pauh, Bachok, Kelantan. It is interesting to see the word "jajahan", which means acquired or conquered territory. Even during the doa after the sermons (khutbah) of the Friday prayers in Johor, the words "...jajahan takluknya" are still used. Well, Johor did pretty well during its heyday of the Johor Empire, with ruled territories including Pahang, the Bangka Islands and Riau in Sumatera. But Kelantan? The state was under perpetual subjugation of Thailand - together with Kedah and Trengganu, sending out the "Bunga Emas"(Golden Flowers) to Bangkok annually.

I was not exclusively raised in Kelantan - I am not even sure I was conceived in Kelantan! This is due to the fact that during this period my late father, Haji Mohamed bin Mat Saman, was in the process of acquiring some agricultural lands in the state of Kedah. It seems that during his travels to the state during the rice-harvesting season, he was told that there were jungle lands in the interior that were up for grabs. During those days (and even nowadays), the Kelantanese need to get out of the state to acquire wealth. They might not starve but they were dearth of cash. So the men especially the young ones, traveled to Kedah during the rice-harvesting season, which was usually around 2 months of so, depending on ripening of the rice, which might be different in various parts of the state. After the harvest some stayed on, doing odd jobs especially working for pay falling timber and sawing the logs into planks. Mechanical sawmills were rare in the 1950s and 60s.

My father finally settled in a remote village in the district of Padang Terap, in north-eastern Kedah by the name of Kampung (village in Malay) Kubang Juluk. "Kubang" is a Malay word for wallow i.e. like buffalo wallow it also can mean a pond. "Juluk" is a shortened version of the work "jejuluk" a kind of grass. Actually there is such a pond or a rice field at the end of the village but I never saw any jejuluk grass in it.

All the good land near or besides the sluggish Sungai Tekai (sungai - river), a tributary of Sg. Padang Terap, were spoken for by the early settlers. The land besides the river is flooded during the monsoon but it is also the land where you can grow fruit trees such as the durians, mangosteens, rambutans and other tropical fruits. The dry season in this part of northern Kedah tends to be long and harsh, some time up to three months or more. The weather is similar to the season of southern Thailand than other parts of Peninsular Malaysia. Therefore, to have a piece of land near a water course is a boon. Even coconut trees grown far from a water course wither and die during the dry season.

The river also a source of water supply and place for taking baths and washing your laundry. Other sources of water a bit further inland are from two tube-wells build by the government. These tube well served around 10 to 15 families nearby. One is dubbed "telaga hilir" (the Northern Well), while the other is called "telaga hulu" (the Southern Well). Our family relied on the "telaga hulu".

My father, Haji Mohamed Mat Saman managed to secure a piece of land to built a house for my Mom, Hajjah Siti Liah Binti Yaacob, his new bride. He married her after he converted some virgin jungle into hill rice fields (huma). These lands are mostly hilly lands shunned by the locals during those days. To them these hilly lands were only good for hunting the mousedeer (pelanduk or kancil) or other wild animals, not for agricultural purposes. Later, my father planted rubber seedlings between the rice bunches. The process is time consuming and labor intensive. Some of the trees he felled were so huge that he needed to built platforms (sigai) on the upper trunk instead of chopping the trees at the buttress level, which had a wider girth. Fire and time slowly reduced the buttresses bulk.

He also dug wet rice paddies at the narrow valleys between the low hills. These rice paddies became larger through time especially when he could hire a "brozo" (bulldozer) to do the job instead of using the "cangkol" (hoe), which is a backbreaking job.

Our first house was built on the piece of land no other villager wanted due to its location besides a creek that flows into Sungai Tekai, therefore the land tend to flood occasionally. But my father's choice was due to its location with one of the two tube wells (Telaga Hulu) only 40 meters away. He did not want himself and my mother have to walk a long distance for to take baths and carry water for the kitchen. Later the children (actual more of myself and my younger brother, Aziz) thanked my father for that right decision.

The house, which was on stilts was made of locally acquired lumber with thatch from the sago or rumbia palm and weaved hill-palm fronds for the roof. The one-room house dimension is approximately 20 x 10 meters, with a section about 30 cm lower than the other. The upper part was used receiving guests, sleeping etc while the further end of the lower section used as our kitchen and dining area. There was also an unroofed but stilted section before the front door, which has a large container of water (tempayan) for washing our feet before entering the house. Malays call this jemuran as it is used for drying unhusked rice etc. The house was built with the upper part 1.5 meter above the ground. Under the house some farm materials were stored and occasionally our cows used it as a shed.

That was our family first house as I remembered it. When we had problems with mosquitoes (which were often), my father burned some dry cow dungs under the house. It would get rid of the mosquitoes but we also had problems breathing and our eyes would water as well as problems getting some sleep!

Poverty was the rule of the day in the village. Some of the original families of Kg. Kubang Juluk were land rich and their houses were also larger than ours but we basically ate the same kind of food. The village had no electricity, no water supply, no telephone lines and no plumbing. These basic facilities of the modern world only came some time in late-80s. I am not sure which one came first as I was studying in Iowa then. Maybe it was electricity, followed by water supply and later the phone line. I have to ask my Mom or my brothers to confirm (my brother Aziz confirmed that electricity came first).

The two-kilometer dirt road to Naka was without good drainage, therefore the road was muddy during the rainy season and dusty when the dry season set in. I always make a joke how we kids were "worn" by the shoes during the wet season - we carried the school shoes strung with the laces across our neck and to be worn only we passed the last mud hole and when we found the closest well to wash our feet.

When I mentioned poverty, I always remember the relative scarcity of food during my childhood. For breakfast we ate boiled tapioca or sweet potato. Occasionally we ate "pulut" (sticky rice) with salted, grated coconut plus dried fish (ikan tamban teleng). My late father preferred the "pulut" before a day of heavy labor. As he said, "it stick to your ribs". Lunch was always boiled rice with a dish of fish (fresh or dried or pickled). We ate raw vegetables with chilli paste (sambal) or the Kelantanese version of fish sauce (budu), which is similar to the Thai's nam phla or the Vietnamese nguoc man. My parents still being Kelantanese by cooking Kelantanese recipes. Instead of cooking just the Mamak-style "karipulai"-tinged scomber (kembong) fish curry, which is preferred by my brother Aziz, my Mom cooked the turmeric-based "gulai kuning Kelantan" preferred by my father. I ate both kinds of curries with relish :-)

Gunung Ledang, 21 February 2010

Gunung Ledang, 21 February 2010
On the Peak of Gunung Ledang after the MNSJ Strategic Planning

Malaysian Nature Society, Johor Branch


I am the present Chairman of the Malaysian Nature Society, Johor Branch (MNSJ) (2010-11) and was duly elected as the President of the Malaysian Nature Society at the 63rd AGM at Taman Rimba Lagenda Ledang, Tangkak on 25th Sept. 2010. It is MNSJ's standing policy to engage directly with the relevant Federal and State agencies/departments on issues related to Nature and the Environment. This non-hostile approach is more effective than the hostile "in your face" attitude but we would have our say if necessary.


About Me

My photo
Skudai, Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
I am an academician in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia situated in the southern state of Johor, Peninsular Malaysia. My fields of expertise are watershed management, water quality and water quality modeling. I did my B. Sc. and M. Sc. at the University of Iowa (1978 - 83) and worked for the Department of Environment (DOE) until 1990, when I joined UTM and later did my PhD in Watershed Science at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado. I was the Chairman of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Johor from 2006 - 2011. I was the President of the MNS from 2010 to 2014.