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A day trip to Johor that will leave you in awe

Young expert guides take you up close to marine life that is fast disappearing.

In a small fishing village on the southern edge of Malaysia, a band of youths are fighting a construction juggernaut that’s threatening their way of life.

But not in the way you might think.

There are no raised fists, picket lines, organised protests or boycotts.

Instead, there are lessons on marine life that don’t stay in the classroom.

The construction of multi-billion dollar properties in this part of Johor Bahru has meant a relentless amount of concrete closing in around villages that had previously been relatively tranquil.

An almost non-stop stream of massive sand trucks barrel down what used to be quiet village roads, an army of foreign construction workers now live nearby, and precious seagrass, along with the marine life that depends on it, is being killed.


Yes, seagrass. It’s more important than it sounds.

It’s food for scores of species of marine life. No food, no marine life. No marine life, no livelihood for fishermen.

The sand or silt in the water is killing the seagrass meadows.

So a group of village youths is fighting back by arming themselves with knowledge of the flora and fauna that lives in what is essentially their backyard. Through the organisation Kelab Alami, they are doing their best to showcase marine life to visitors while the seagrass and all who depend on it, still exists.

Until a few years ago, these football-playing and sometimes k-pop singing honest to goodness salt of the earth young men and women couldn’t speak any English. Now, they’re conducting private tours for visitors and assisting researchers from as far away as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), helping them to see the marine life up close.

And what magnificent marine life it is.

When my son and I went on this tour in the strait between Malaysia’s Johor Bahru and Singapore’s Tuas, we couldn’t believe that we could see and experience all that we did less than 5 minutes from the Second Link bridge that connects the two countries.

On the seagrass meadow, we felt like we were standing on water, in the middle of the ocean.

We saw feeding trails of the mighty dugong that looked like they had been made by a vacuum cleaner or lawn mower, so neat they were.

We saw starfish moving – ever so gently – doing “sand angels” and mating, well, like rock stars.

We saw large seahorses, in pairs of course, with one of the males pregnant.   

There were numerous species of crab, other shellfish and sea cucumber. There were too many species of seagrass and water plants for us to remember, but our guides knew every single one.

I’m not so big on nature. I’m comfortable in the city. I like my “nature” manicured and not too wild. You know, give me the rustic experience but no mosquitoes please.

But standing on that seagrass meadow, I couldn’t help feeling awed by the incredible diversity of flora and fauna. I felt deep gratitude for the opportunity to witness it in its raw beauty.

The wonderful, earnest and unpretentious kampung guides made it that much more enjoyable.

This is their backyard and they’re proud of it and want to share it.

The construction that’s closing in on the villagers is very real. Fishermen are having to go farther and farther out to find smaller and smaller catches of fish.

But the youth are not fatalistic. If they’re angry, they don’t show it. Instead, they’re making the most of their situation.

They are determined to take care of their environment and to preserve it the best they can, by sharing its richness with others in the friendliest, most authentic way they know how.

To visit the seagrass meadow and other habitats with Alami, email them at kelabalami.walks@gmail.com. You can also find out more about their programs, including team-building or CSR activities on their website or Facebook page.

Filmmakers  :   Tan Teck Kuan & Deryck Tan
Writer  :   Josh Lye

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