Look beyond this island’s beaches and discover bats, birds, wild fruits and other eco treasures in its hilly forests.
MENTION Pangkor, and you’d probably think of the seaside resorts and satay fish snacks that are so often associated with this small island, just off Lumut, Perak.
Nobody could’ve imagined that in mid-July, over 115 researchers from 14 different institutes in Malaysia would have convened here for the Pangkor Island Scientific Expedition 2017 (PISE 2017). They were joined by 300 local primary school pupils.
Only a 10 minute boat ride from the mainland, this island is home to over 82 species of reptiles and amphibians (herpetofauna).
PISE 2017 was a seven-day event hosted by the Ecotourism and Conservation Society of Malaysia (Ecomy) and supported by Vale Minerals Sdn Bhd. Its aim was to document the local flora and fauna, and help the local community better appreciate the rich biodiversity on the island.
The PISE also aimed to build on the knowledge that the Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia had collected from an expedition in 2009.
Another major aim was to promote ecotourism. The Malay saying “tak kenal maka tak cinta” was emphasised time and again by Ecomy co-founder and CEO, Andrew Sebastian, as a reminder that only through getting to know the island can one appreciate its beauty.
I was introduced to Ismadi Din, a local naturalist who was interested in becoming a certified nature guide. Sebastian explained that the main ecotourism issue that he had identified when visiting Pangkor was that there are many locals who take tourists trekking, but are unable to provide their guests with knowledge on the flora and fauna seen during treks.
This led to the birth of the Vale & Ecomy Mentorship Scheme for locals interested in becoming certified Pangkor Nature Guides.
In 2015, Sebastian and a few other leading scientists including Dr Manohar Mariappan (Mano) from Universiti Putra Malaysia, had educated and trained four local people on the history of Pangkor, its flora and fauna (on land and sea) and nature photography.
By 2016, there were five more guides who wanted to be trained and certified as well.
“Ecomy will just be in Pangkor temporarily, but the locals who have been trained as guides will stay and benefit the local economy, making it self sustainable,” said Sebastian.
Another important reason for the scientific expedition was to emphasise the importance of the island’s biodiversity on land.
Usually tourists visit Pangkor for the sea activities such as banana boating, jet skiing and kayaking. However, they are often blissfully unaware of the beautiful trails scattered around the island.
Both Sebastian and Mano highlighted the fact that a rare tree called Shorea lumutensis exists in only three places in the world, all of them along the west coast of Malaysia, and mostly on Pangkor.
Sebastian also mentioned that he wished there were more local heroes discovering new species, instead of waiting for foreigners to come to the island and discover them.
The purpose of PISE was to address all these issues and produce high quality scientific evaluations of the island that will be useful for the Pangkor Nature Guides and the local community.
The flying fox or large fruit bat is the subject of a study being carried out on Pangkor island. The mammals are crucial in helping to pollinate fruit trees.
Nature experts teaching young ones about sea cucumbers and other marine life found on Pangkor island. — Photos: PISE
Learning first-hand that ‘to know nature is to love nature’, as a giant millipede crawls on a student’s arm.
The huge seed of the bogak tree, after which a place on Pangkor island is named.
A tiny crab on a researcher’s hand.
A closer look at various species of plants.
Dr Teo sharing his knowledge of snakes with the participants.