Who they are and what they do

sos

Save Our Seahorses (SOS) Malaysia is a non-profit group established in 2005 that uses seahorses as a flagship species to conserve the rich biodiversity of the Pulai River Estuary in south-west Johor, not far from the Second Link to Singapore.
Driven almost single-handedly by Choo Chee Kuang, a University Malaya Terengganu lecturer, SOS has been responsible for numerous public awareness and education campaigns in the area as well as scientific research and monitoring on the biodiversity of this highly threatened habitat.

The Pulai River Estuary is a vast river system historically rich in marine and mangrove biodiversity. The upper reaches of the river are known to be home to saltwater crocodiles, water monitors and a healthy fish and crustacean population. Further downstream, but still within the river itself, there used to be healthy coral reef areas as well as a sizeable seagrass bed with tape seagrass (Enhalus sp.) that grows up to 2m in length. These areas used to host myriad marine species that were the foundation of the local fishermen’s daily catch. The mangroves that ensconce the river system were so rich and diverse that a large upper portion was gazetted as a Ramsar Site, according it internationally-recognised status as wetlands of great importance that need to be preserved.

Beyond the river mouth, nestled between Merambong Island and the river itself, is the largest contiguous seagrass meadow in all of Peninsular Malaysia. The seagrass meadow is a hot pot of life, serving as a nursery, breeding and feeding ground of countless marine animals. The highly endangered dugong feeds here, as well as the hawksbill turtle. In the past dolphins used to be frequently seen in the area. Seahorses and pipefish abound, as well as countless other crustaceans, sponges, anemones, worms… it is an infinite – and growing – list.

The spanner in the works however, is that the area is part of the larger Iskandar Development Region. And a lot of concrete infrastructure has been put into place, with more in progress and even more on the drawing board. Even more depressing is that the development goes beyond simple buildings and offices. This area is slated for heavy industry – a large port, chemical processing plants, oil and gas refineries and storage and a powerplant. Much of this is already underway, and while there are consistent claims towards their environmental awareness and compliance, the existence of such industries smack in the middle of a vital yet fragile habitat is sure to spell trouble. 

As advocating absolutely no development is painfully impossible, SOS and Choo’s missions are to EMPOWER the local communities (as they are already suffering from reduced fish catch as a result of this ongoing construction); PROMOTE conservation education and awareness amongst local communities and the general public; FACILITATE a public participation program in endangered species and environmental monitoring; and to WORK WITH local stakeholders and policy makers on local area protection and sustainable environmental management.

What a traveller can experience

  • Witness the jaw-dropping beauty of the seagrass meadow: You ride up to it at low tide and literally out of the blue, the vast stretch of Beting Merambong’s seagrass simply appears at low tide. (Beting –pronounced buh-tehng – means shoal or sand bank.) It stretches almost 2km long at the largest patch and there are a number of other patches of green adjacent to it and slightly further away (at Tanjung Adang). If low-tide coincides with sunrise or sunset then you are blessed with one of the most beautiful horizons you could ever imagine. Stand there quietly, take it all in and realise how small and insignificant you actually are in this wondrous natural world.sos-seagrass-bed
  • Find out more about the Pulai River Estuary, the threats it faces and the rich biodiversity of the seagrass ecosystem. This seagrass bed is only accessible for a few days in a month, when the tide is right, so it is a rare opportunity to be able to experience and study it. The research centre in Kampung Ladang is overflowing with information, posters and books on mangrove and marine ecosystems; volunteer guides and facilitators are always on hand to answer your questions.
  • sos-volunteers-at-work

  • Assist with seagrass monitoring, mapping or species spotting: Depending on the program being conducted at the time of your visit, the volunteer can get involved in some sort of monitoring activity and at the same time get up close and personal with the residents of the seagrass meadow. On-the-job training will be provided and specific guidelines will be given on the do’s and don’ts when on site. Further information on the requirements, schedule etc can be found on the SOS website. Volunteer slots fill up very quickly so it is necessary to plan well in advance once the schedule is available.

Contacts

Ng Wei Soon (+60) 12-6340988, wsoon82@gmail.com and Choo Chee Kuang, (+60) 19-981 5940, choo@umt.edu.my
General email:saveourseahorses@yahoo.com
Location : Save Our Seahorses, 90,
Kg Ladang, Gelang Patah, 81560 Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Website : http://www.sosmalaysia.org

How to get there

By bus to LARKIN (Johor Bahru). Get on the yellow Causeway Link 666 bus to Gelang Patah bus station. From there it is possible to take a taxi to the research centre (see directions below) – it will cost about RM15-20 per trip. SOS also has a regular taxi driver En Hashim (+60-12-7321357) who might be available to help with transport.

By car: From the NORTH-SOUTH HIGHWAY towards Johor Bahru, take the SENAI exit and follow the signs to TUAS (Singapore). Look out for the GELANG PATAH exit, you will take the NEXT exit after that to PTP or TG PELEPAS. (If you miss this exit, you will be on the highway going to Singapore. Do not panic, it is possible to make a U-turn to come back but it will cost you about RM10 in toll charges.)

Once you come off the main highway, you will still be on a 3-lane road – there will be a traffic light and a right turn to Leisure Farm/ Pendas. Take that right turn onto a smaller road flanked by shrubbery. At the big cross-junction in front of you, turn left to the kampung/ Pendas (there are no road signs). This is now a slightly windy road through several picturesque villages (with the Port of Tg Pelepas on your right – you will be able to see the cranes). Please drive slowly as random animals/ children/ old folk will wander across the road without checking for oncoming traffic.
Note the little distance ‘tombstones’ that appear occasionally by the road on the left. They will indicate the remaining distance to Pendas. Keep driving along this road until you have gone through a short tunnel. This is Kampung Ladang. You will need to find the research centre in this village.
It is on the right, opposite a faded distance ‘tombstone’ that indicates that it is 1km to Pendas. The research centre is the first unit in a set of 4 almost ‘longhouse’ styled houses facing blue hoardings. (The houses do not face the road.) There are slanted coconut trees at the entrance to the turnoff to the house. If you see a left turn marked Jln Kg Ladang Darat or reach the end of the road/ aquaculture ponds/ the Pendas jetty then you have gone too far, turn around and head back to try again.

By air: Fly Malaysia Airlines, Air Asia or Firefly to Senai airport. From there, you can take the licensed airport taxi to Pendas (let them know that it is near the 2nd link/ Gelang Patah). It will cost about RM60 for the taxi but you will have to give directions (ask the taxi driver to take you to Kg Ladang – on the way to Pendas – via Gelang Patah, then use the directions below to find the research centre in Kg Ladang)

Written by Serina Rahman, KL. 26 Jan 2009
Permission granted to reproduce for personal use only.
Commercial use is prohibited.

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