THE tiny turtle flopped feebly but instinctively towards the sea. Seconds later, foamy white waves crashed around it and pulled it into the sea, off to an uncertain future . . .
The release of a baby turtle into its natural habitat is often an emotional experience for visitors witnessing it for the first time. At the Pasir Panjang Segari Turtle Sanctuary near Lumut, you can see hundreds of live turtles being hatched and released into the sea.
The sanctuary is just one of several hidden surprises around Lumut in southern Perak. Meaning “moss” or “seaweed”, Lumut is home to the Royal Malaysian Navy base and the Outward Bound School. Long looked upon as the gateway to Pangkor Island, Lumut is coming into its own.
“Many city folk associate turtle sanctuaries with Rantau Abang in Terengganu, eco-tourism with Langkawi and beach retreats with Port Dickson, but you can find it all here in Lumut,” said Swiss-Garden Damai Laut Resort marketing communications manager Linda Evelyn Wong.
At this turtle sanctuary, visitors get to feed rescued turtles with fresh cucumber and fish. The quiet stretch of beaches here make up Perak’s main turtle landing areas. The 2.4ha hatchery and research centre is supported by the Department of Fisheries.
For over 15 years, caretaker Bahar Kamseri, 52, has been collecting turtle eggs from the beach and hatching them.
“We try to release as many turtles as possible back into the ocean once they are old enough. But the baby turtles struggle to survive against natural predators and trawlers’ nets,” he said.
“We’ve recorded a steady decline in turtle landings over the years. About 20 years ago, up to 200 eggs were laid each day. The eggs decreased to 170 and now it’s only 150.
“Out of 1,000 hatchlings released monthly, less than 50 are expected to survive. Will we still see turtles nesting here in 10 years time?” Bahar wondered.
Nesting season peaks between March and July. A female turtle normally comes ashore to lay eggs four to six times every two years. Only seven species of marine turtles are found in the world, and four land on our beaches. The ones at Pasir Panjang are primarily the Green Turtle (Penyu Agar), Olive Ridley Turtle (Penyu Lipas), and Painted Terrapin (Tuntung Laut).
Apparently, a turtle’s sex can be decided by humans through the way the eggs are buried in the sand.
“If we need more female turtles, we ensure that the eggs are exposed to more sunlight by placing them on top of the pile for 45 days. If male turtles are needed, then the eggs are carefully shaded for up to 60 days!” Bahar explained.
Kuala Sepetang fishing villages
One of the places in Perak rich with history and culture is Kuala Sepetang, formerly known as Port Weld. This was where the first railroad tracks in the country were built, connecting it to Taiping.
Time moves slowly here: old men ride by slowly on rickety bicycles, fishing villages make do without electricity, and wooden shops continue to thrive, uninterrupted as yet by supermarkets.
“The villagers are dependant on marine life and the mangrove forests,” said resident Lee Miang Hiaw, 36, whose father and grandfather were the village headmen in their time. Lee runs businesses in the mangrove industry and cockle farming.
“Time has changed our lifestyle but there is still a sense of timelessness. The river banks used to be tranquil but now boat engines disturb the peace,” Lee says.
A fleet of fishing boats can be sighted returning in the afternoon whereupon they will offload sacks of freshly harvested cockles from the farms offshore.
For history buffs, the nearby Matang Museum is a fascinating place. The wax figures and displays inside recreate the tin-mining scenes Perak was once famous for. You also get to see a traditional court in session, British colonial masters at work and Japanese soldiers monitoring radios during WWII.
Matang mangrove forest
The green serenity of the Matang Mangrove Forest stills every visitor’s heart. The place is regarded as one of the world’s best managed sustainable mangrove forests. Here timber is logged using a 30-year rotation system.
A boardwalk winds through the forest for visitors to view the tall, straight trunks of the Rhizo apiculata or bakau minyak. The trees are identifiable by the huge, exposed roots that help prop them up above the soggy earth. Salt-resistant, these roots allow the trees to survive in the harsh coastline environment.
Nearby are the charcoal kilns that burn the harvested timber into blackened logs.
“Charcoal is amazing stuff!” Lee gushed excitedly. “The smoke detoxifies pollution in the air and repels mosquitoes. Charcoal also absorbs fumes and smells inside your car or fridge and neutralise the soil.”
The kilns are hot and smoky but in a pleasant way. Here, you can observe workers inserting the logs into an opening in the huge, domed brick ovens where the wood will be burned in intense heat for three weeks.
After a day of sightseeing here, you can enjoy the bounties of the surrounding waters at the local eateries.
At Restoran Tepi Sungai in Kuala Sepetang, diners can enjoy deep-fried squid, sweet scallops cooked in their shells, fried eggs with oysters or bamboo clams, and a variety of steamed fish. A meal for seven is only around RM70.
In the one-street town of Pantai Remis, 30 minutes south of Lumut, you will find Li Song Kee Restaurant, a 30-year-old establishment famous for its seafood. The restaurant’s clientele includes former MCA president Datuk Dr Ling Liong Sik and actress Datuk Michelle Yeoh.
“The seafood served on your dinner table has just been delivered from fishermen at the jetty around 5pm,” owner Tang Weng Kee proudly told me.
“Pantai Remis is known for producing some of Malaysia’s biggest and juiciest mantis prawns. There is even a demand for them in Hong Kong.”
The old Weng Thye Heng eatery along Jalan Trump in Kuala Sepetang town offers hot Ban Chuan coffee from Taiping. The coffee is highly aromatic, having been roasted with margarine, sugar and honey.
If it’s a romantic seaside dinner you’re looking for, Swiss-Garden’s Gayam Restaurant ought to fit the bill. This rustic restaurant is perched on stilts and commands an awesome view of the sea.
Whether it’s great food, spectacular sunset or fascinating experiences you are after, Lumut makes a good destination. W