Much of Malaysia’s natural beauty has been destroyed in the name of development but the Terengganu state government seems determined to preserve the state’s natural beauty and to profit from it through sustainable tourism.
The Perhentian Island Challenge is one of the events that the state government is supporting towards this end because it is an environmentally aware race as well as a visitor magnet.
One of the jewels of the state, Perhentian, consists of two islands located very close together and is very popular with local and overseas tourists.
“Conservation is our greatest strength in tourism,” says Datuk Mohamed Nasir Ibrahim Fikri, deputy chairman of the Terengganu State Industrial Development Committee. “That’s why we have kept development to a minimum. You won’t see tall buildings on Perhentian. We are also working on a method to control the number of people on the island at any one time.”
Tim Ho Wooi Choong, project manager for PIC Adventures Sdn Bhd, which is organising the race, agrees that development on the islands should be controlled. He says the island’s rustic landscape is what attracts tourists, pointing out that at least half the people on the island are foreigners.
“These tourists are nature lovers and not the sort who are looking for theme parks or shopping malls. They are not litterbugs and observe the requirements in safeguarding the island’s natural beauty.
“We want to avoid our past mistakes, which caused us to lose our leatherback turtles and precious coral reefs at Pulau Redang,” adds Mohamed Nasir. “With our current conservation efforts, the green turtles and sharks are beginning to return. We hope the leatherback turtles will eventually come back, too.”
Perhentian Island’s 1,400 residents are mostly fishermen. A small number are also involved in the tourism and hospitality industry. All will come together and show off their unique culture and cuisine during the Perhentian Island Challenge 2007 on Aug 25.
There will be stalls offering mouth-watering delicacies like laksam, local keropok, satar (which is made of fish and coconut) and otak-otak.
“We will also produce dishes from the past like loklit, which the younger generation has rarely seen,” says Mohamed Nasir. It is made of tapioca and banana and dipped in coconut and sugar.
All these delicacies will be served free of charge to race participants, thanks to the state government’s sponsorship.
The locals will also introduce traditional games like panjat tiang licin (where players try to climb a slippery pole to grab a flag) and pukul bantal (a pillow fight at sea, on wooden poles).
Handicraft made by the islanders will also be on display.
“The Challenge has done much to make the island known worldwide. When I was in London and Berlin recently, I met people who had never heard of Terengganu. They could barely pronounce the name but, surprisingly, many recognised Perhentian Island and knew its location,” says Mohamed Nasir.
In keeping with Terengganu’s commitment to conservation, race participants will join in a clean-up exercise of the beach and the ocean on the last day of the Challenge on Aug 26. This should give everyone a sense of having done something worthwhile, regardless of the outcome of the race.