Time spent at oyster farm a real gem for volunteers

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 28 Jul 2019

Jewel of the sea: Volunteers (from left) Carly Malkiewicz, DeLeon and Hamilton admiring a large oyster at the farm along Sungai Merbok.

ALOR SETAR: Volunteering can be tedious sometimes but for graphic designer Syadzwan Nasruddin, his initial short stint at an oyster farm in Sungai Merbok here turned into a three-year-stay.

“I found out about the farm online and decided to check it out. It was meant to be a short voluntary stint in 2015, but I continued until 2018,” said Syadzwan, who has since moved back to Kuala Lumpur.

“Our days started early in the morning with the cleaning process.

“We had to clean the containers with the various stages of oysters at 8am, as well as maintain the containers that held the oysters to make sure that there were no holes for crabs to get in.

“Yes, it was hard labour but a good experience for me personally as I never thought I would enjoy such a thing,” said the 34-year old from Subang Jaya, who still occasionally visits the farm and the friends he made here.

“I am here for two weeks to volunteer and catch up with everyone,” he said during his latest visit.

Many volunteers from all over the world come to work for months at the farm, which provides food and lodgings.

English lass Eden Hamilton, 22, who is travelling through Asia, loved the oyster farm so much that she decided to return for another stint before heading home.

“I volunteered here for over a month last October. I decided to come back again before my holiday ends.

“It has been fun although it is a bit tough. There’s a lot of cleaning to make sure there is no contamination.

“It has been a great experience learning about oysters and what they actually do for the water. Oysters help filter the water, leading to cleaner surroundings,” she said.

For American Aleynah DeLeon, she decided to spend her summer holidays here.

“I wanted to do some volunteer work during my break and decided that this seemed interesting. I’ve learnt about conservation and how important oysters are for the environment.“The local culture has also been something to experience,” said the 21-year-old, who is studying intercultural studies and graphic design.

The only downside for her was her fear of worms.

“You sometimes come across worms when cleaning the oysters, so it takes some getting used to. I am getting over my fear now.

“I am also learning to appreciate the environment and our natural resources. I did not know that mangroves and oysters act as filters for the water,” she said.

The floating farm is located by the riverbank of Kampung Sungai Batu Besi in Kedah’s Bujang Valley. Volunteers help clean the oysters as they mature in 18 to 24 months.

Rearing two varieties – slipper and tropical oysters – farm owner Mohd Ridzwan Ishak said he used to buy oyster seeds from a supplier.

“There was a sole supplier but he was not able to meet our demand, so we had to study how to culture them. Now, we have about 10,000 oysters here.

“As they grow, some will die. To remove the dead, we shake the containers with the oysters and those that float to the top are dead (empty inside).

“We grade them until they are mature and ready to be eaten,” he said.

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