Friday, February 5, 2010

A Trip to Pulau Tigabu on the Eastern Edge of Tun Mustapha Park

By: Angela Lim, SSME Senior Communications Officer

On Saturday 30 January 2010, I was fortunate to join the Kudat PCA team to Pulau Tigabu, within the proposed Tun Mustapha Park (TMP). Besides being a weekend, the trip took a bit of sacrifice as it involved waking up at 5am! The early departure on the Mameng (WWF’s 10m boat) was so that we could catch the tide and avoid bad waves. By 7:30am, we sped away from Kudat marina and were rewarded by a spectacular sunrise and a good calm sea.

With us on the trip were Encik Fazrullah Abdul Razak, Marine Park Manager of Sabah Parks, Encik Jimli Perijin, Wildlife Enforcement Officer of Sabah Wildlife Department, and Encik Amillson Baragus, a consultant for WWF’s alternative livelihood assessment study. Encik Fazrullah wanted to promote the establishment of the proposed TMP, while Encik Jimli aimed to introduce Sabah Wildlife Department’s Honorary Wildife Warden (HWW) role and recruit participants for the HWW training coming up in March. As for WWF, we wanted to raise awareness on conservation in general and on marine turtles in particular, and promote collaborative management of resources in Tigabu in conjunction with the proposed TMP.



After an hour’s ride, just outside of Malubang in northern Pitas, we saw a big sand stone shaped like a boat. Robecca, Kudat’s team leader, pointed at it and proceeded to tell a local legend associated with the stone. A long time ago, a young village boy who was the only son of a poor woman travelled to sea looking for better fortune. After finding it, he sailed back to his village bringing with him his wife. Recognising him, his mother excitedly greeted him, hugging and kissing her returning son. The son, having done well in life and married a princess, felt ashamed of his poorly dressed mother and refused to acknowledge her. The poor mother was deeply hurt and she cursed her son, turning him into a stone together with his boat. To this day, the huge sand stone still stands and is called Sepirak, after the accursed son.


The first glimpse I got of Pulau Tigabu is a quaint isle dotted with swaying coconut trees along a stretch of white beach interspersed with wooden huts. When Pakcik Damsek our boatman succeeded to navigate through the corals fringing the outer edge of the island to the jetty, we observed an inner belt of seagrass leading up to the shores. If the seagrass was not enough (some turtles feed on seagrass), the white and loose sand beneath our feet certainly convinced us that this island has all the conditions conducive to turtle landing and nesting.


We checked in at the “White” or Tigabu Government Resthouse and met with some locals over tea. Encik Fukisan bin Manawali greeted us with Encik Rahmat of PGA 16th from the police post. Encik Fukisan gave a brief introduction to the island with 105 houses and approximately 700 people. A majority of these are Ubian, but there are also 7 or 8 other minority groups. Most of the inhabitants are fishers, while some have started sea ranching of balat (or gamat - sea cucumbers).


Encik Fukisan confirmed that roughly 4-5 turtles land on the island per month, mostly hawksbills. He has also seen what he calls penyu bulan (or penyu lipas – Olive Ridley turtle). Robecca said the previous trip, she saw a green turtle landing at Tigabu.


The island is supplied by well water and the inhabitants rely on diesel generated power. For transportation, villagers can follow fishing boats or trawlers out to Kudat (2 hours) or Sandakan (4 hours) for supplies.

After tea, the team went for a dive to survey a reef at the eastern side of Tigabu. The coral reef was not great on the overall and mostly covered by siltation. Visibility was poor and the water temperature was quite cool, at least to my tropical blood! Despite staring to shiver after 20 minutes into the dive, I was able to observe two huge cuttlefishes, a blue-spotted stingray, a plate-sized coral leopard trout, lots of big sweetlips and snappers, and Amillson pointed out a rare comet fish and a jaw fish that got scared back into its hole when the others swam right over it to look!



The serious part of the trip was consultation session after lunch with the local community. In attendance was Ketua Kampung Encik Amir bin Hassan, Encik Fukisan representing the JKKK and a number of men and women folk. The noteworthy questions raised during the dialogue were:
  1. What is the status of the land grants applied by locals?
  2. Will the Tigabu folks be prohibited from fishing completely?
  3. What are the next steps for the gazettement of TMP?
  4. Is it possible not to include Pulau Tigabu in the proposed TMP?
  5. Why is the park named Tun Mustapha?

These questions were well answered by Sabah Park, Sabah Wildlife Dept and WWF representatives. Question number 5 was interesting to me as it was the first time I had heard it asked, although Robecca said it comes up quite frequently. The proposed park is named after Tun Datu Hj. Mustapha B. Datu Harun, a local from the neighbouring Banggi Island. He led Sabah and its people to join the formation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963, and was also the third Chief Minister of Sabah from 1967-1975. Hence the proposed park is named in Tun Mustapha’s honour.

The consultation ended well with an evening of video shows on the purpose of the proposed TMP and the benefits of turtle conservation at Turtle Islands Park. This was followed by a late night of loud karaoke festivities.

We woke early the next day and ran a good beach clean-up. Even the children chipped in and literally pulled their weight in dragging rubbish sacks to a hole at the end. The kids were all smiles still!

On the way back to Kudat, we stopped over at nearby Pulau Kukuban with a lighthouse. I opted out of diving and snorkelled instead to shore. The corals were badly degraded by fish bombs near the shallow end, but showed signs of regeneration with lots of Christmas tree worms and embedded clams. In deeper waters between 8 to 10 metres, the reef was in better shape with soft corals and a few giant clams around 20 centimetres.


On shore, tiny Kukuban took under 10 minutes to circumambulate. Hisham, an Honorary Wildlife Warden, pointed out two turtle tracks. We followed one track up to a small bush and to our dismay, discovered that there was an empty hole—the turtle eggs were taken and probably eaten. Our conclusion is that we need to do more turtle awareness work in the area, especially with the community at Pulau Tigabu. All the more reason for the Kudat team to return to the charming island in the far flung eastern edge of the proposed Tun Mustapha Park. And for them to bring me along too and write more about it!

5 comments:

  1. what a beautiful place. pity so much degradation going on, dying corals, siltation, fish bombing, the list just goes on doesnt it? phew!

    I'd love to go see this place one day, maybe May this year when I go to KK to visit! :)

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  2. Is a very nice island over there =)

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  3. ..i born in this beautifuL isLand..ismail

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  4. yeah its lovely here

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  5. we are on a yacht 14 miles from tigabu, thank you internet everywhere, thanks to your article we plan to anchor somewhere close and have a look arround,will let you know what we find
    brian t
    b.tennant@xtra.co.nz

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