A Travellerspoint blog

Turtle Island

sunny 32 °C

Thought it was about time I wrote again- it's been a while. I've done a fair bit in the last two weeks, but have been pretty lazy in terms of writing it must be said. I think my mammoth chunks of text have taken their toll on me, so going to try to keep it much more brief. Well I think I was just back in KK last time I wrote, and I remained there for just over a week- which was really nice. Didn't have any stresses and could just relax and do a few different thinks. The project at this point had sort of ground to a halt- we needed expert help in terms of the TED design as it wasn't functioning properly and because of this we couldn't exactly trial it. So we decided to head back to KK and await Nick's return from Madagascar.

Me and gill started our Rescue Diver course the day after we got back from KK- which lasted two days. It was really good fun and I learnt an awful lot. You learn all different skills- from how to restrain and rescue panicking divers, to manage a rescue effort, search and rescue dives, recovering, dekitting, and removing an unconscious diver from the water. Pretty much any rescue you can think of, you cover. To start with you do all kinds of self rescue- so the instructor will do things like turn off your air underwater, or deflate your BCD on the surface and rip the chord out that you inflate it with. They do all this out of the blue and it's up to you to rescue yourself properly and efficiently. It was good fun- throughout the whole course they sprung surprises on you and it made you think on your feet, which was a great experience. A couple of days later I went leisure diving also, which was really good. I love diving with borneo dream and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who's ever out in KK, they are great guys (cheers Katie!!). Saw my first shark on this dive also, even though it was a baby nurse shark hiding under a rock, it was still pretty cool. Saw an eagle ray on one of my rescue dives also, which is even more amazing! Saw some crown of thorns starfish too, which was very cool.

So diving took up a fair chunk of my time in KK. Kit had his mum and step dad over for a few days, which left me to hang out with the girls quite a lot in the evening. I went to see that new twilight film with them one (shitlad), which was actually one of the most boring films I have ever seen. I implore you not to see it, it is truly horrific. Went to see Salt on my last night in KK too, which although was reasonably enjoyable- in a hollywood popcorn kind of way, it was one of the most ridiculous films I have ever seen. Totally not worth £7 or whatever in the UK, but for £1.80 over here, I wasn't too displeased. We all went out on saturday night again also, which started off slowly until me and Kit went to the supermarket and bought a bottle of 50% bright pink local liquor. Needless to say I don't remember much after that, and spent much of the next day in a darkened room, with only a trip to pizza hut worth noting.

When I was diving on the monday, Gill was sorting her bank stuff out and went in to the office and found Nick there giving lectures to these two Pakistani guys (one from the government and one from IUCN) who he is helping them start up a turtle conservation project over in Pakistan. She sat in on the days lectures and managed to get us to join in with the rest of their training. The next day consisted of more lectures, which was really interesting and the highlight was to come on wednesday when we were taking a trip to turtle island, a turtle hatchery off the east coast of borneo. We headed off in the morning to the airport and flew 45 minutes to Sandakan, another big city in Sabah. From there we took Nick's boat out to the island, which takes about an hour. The island looks stunning- I've attached some photos at the bottom. It finally felt tropical- Clear blue water and sandy beaches. It was just brilliant. Nick has done a lot of research there in the past- so we didn't have to pay. We all had passes and because we were with Nick we were allowed round the island to do whatever we wanted. Tourists are highly managed on the island- Only 48 a night and you have to leave the beach by 6pm. No tourists are allowed on the beach after this without a ranger. We were exempt from this, which was brilliant. In the afternoon, Nick walked us round and explained how the turtles laid their eggs and showed us their tracks and things and showed us successful and abandoned nests etc etc. It was very interesting to get an idea about the nesting habits. Hatcheries are quite contentious things in turtle conservation- if managed badly they can cause high levels of mortality from mishandling the eggs and not reburying them in the right conditions. Turtles develop their sex depending on their temperature. Eggs that are warmer become female- In the wild many nests are made under the shade of trees, but often in the past hatcheries have not received any shade at all. So when the nests are moved, it leads to a huge bias of female turtles being hatched. There are many other issues, that I can't really go into over this, but I found it really interesting. I've got to say though, the price is crazy- it costs around £150 per person to see the turtles and your experience goes something like this- Get to the island in the morning, spend the day their snorkelling, sunbathing etc, watch educational video at 7pm, have dinner shortly after, wait for turtles to come ashore, go see a turtle lay its eggs into a nest (duration 20 minutes max), watch ranger transport eggs into hatchery and bury them (duration 5 minutes), a bucket of hatchlings is brought out and you watch the rangers taken them down to the shore and release them about 2 foot from the water (Duration 5-10 minutes). The whole turtle experience is extremely short and you only get to see it once, then you have to go to bed. To make this worse the groups are huge- 24 people each. One of the objectives of the training was to see how the hatchery was managed in terms of tourists. We stood back and watched all the interactions and it was very interesting. I would have wanted more. After the tourists had gone to bed, we walked around the island several times to look for tracks and watched a few turtles lay their eggs. The whole process from coming ashore to leaving the beach takes several hours- they dig their nests in the sand and are very slow across the beach. We released some hatchlings into the sea. We kept looking round until the early hours and there was no accommodation so we slept out on the beach, which was pretty cool- even though it did get pretty cold! We left the island at 6am the next morning to get back to the airport to fly back to KK. A quick turn around and we headed up to Kudat to show the Pakistanis the TED project.

We basically just took them out on the boat for a couple of hours. The donor for the project from the UN Small Grants Programme was also with us, so we needed to impress. Which somehow we did, bearing in mind the project hasn't gone too far. We met with a lot of boat owners that night and showed them video footage we had collected (the bits that were suitable anyway) and we're trying to push more interest. We're slowly getting there, we have the funds to compensate them for any losses they incur. The last few nights has been the same out on the boat, collecting data. Still making various adjustments to the TED- Nick is coming back up next week as we have quite a big change to make that hopefully will make it better. Oh I tried to watch the man city v tottenham game last night. Went for a walk round Kudat- a lot of places are shut as it's Ramadan. I found one place showing some football- it was the end of a Japanese league game, which I thought they'd obv turn over once it had finished. They did turn it over when it had finished, only onto a Malaysian soap, which I was highly unimpressed about. Very disappointed in Kudat.

Got 3 weeks left here now, can't believe how quickly it's going. I'm sure these will fly by. Will write in a week or so. x

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Posted by mburgass 21:46 Archived in Malaysia Tagged events Comments (0)

The Mantis Shrimp

sunny 30 °C

Good day. Currently writing this from the hostel back in KK where I arrived a couple of hours ago from Kudat. Was out on the boat last night and so am feeling pretty haggered- not really in the mood for writing, but I've got nothing better to do at the moment. The last week in Kudat has been all in all down right stressful, so I am very pleased to be back "home" in KK and looking forward to diving the next couple of days- although this isn't likely to be too relaxing as it's the rescue course.

We've had a lot of problems with the device this week as well as the boat crews. The TED has undergone some major cosmetic surgery since the first design, which failed miserably. We've tried all sorts of things to improve it under the direction from Nick, who is currently in the USA. Between us you can barely say we have an ounce of knowledge on TED design but that has been the soul focus of this week. And 7 days later we still haven't got very far. We completely removed the flaps yesterday and replaced them very specifically, but the video we got back this morning shows that we are still losing catch. All this faffing around means that we are wasting valuable time in actually trialling the effectiveness of the TED and I'm starting to get a bit worried for my report! But I've decided that I'm going to alter the title and now designing a TED is going to be a significant proportion of it. Furthermore, we've not been able to get out on the boats as much as we would have liked due to a barrage of excuses from the captain and crew. I think we still managed 4 out of 7 nights though, which isn't too bad.

There are just two things that I want to share from this week really, as I say it's been really stressful. On a couple of the nights that we had off we headed up to the tip of Borneo, which is about a 30 minute drive away. It's supposed to be a sort of tourist site I guess, but tourists don't go there. There's nothing else around to do so it basically means a 3.5 hour drive from KK just to take in scenery which I'm guessing most people aren't bothered about, but I'm glad they're not as it's absolutely heavenly. At least it felt that way anyway. It felt at times this week that we were living and breathing the work we were doing. The first night we went out on the boat then worked through the day on the video footage as well as modifying the TED and then went back out that night on the boat, with more video editing the following morning. It worked out as pretty much a 36-40 hour day. And when you are spending every waking minute with the same people, constantly talking about work, tempers can easily fray. I think we did ok in that respect, we all kept our cool, but it was uncomfortable at times. So to escape up to the secluded beaches at the tip of Borneo after that was just amazing. We took some takeaway Thai food and sat on the beach eating it. Immediately we all felt ourselves relax and work slowly drained out of us for the first time in days. It was magic. I decided to clear my head further and took a long walk up the beach by myself as far as I could get. The water was warm and the sun was setting and no one else was around. There was a little fishing boat propped up on the sand and a pack of stray dogs were playing with each other and that was literally it. Just writing this is taking me back there now- I'm so so glad we went as it was one of the best experiences of the trip so far, to properly unwind. We hung around until the sun went down and then headed back to Kudat for the night. I'll tag some photos on to the bottom.

The second experience was the first night on the new boat- KT3232/F. All the nights out before we have been running on the same boat with a TED fixed. But for a comparative analysis we need to take 2 boats out at the same time and trawl them together, one with a TED and the other without. We ended up on KT3232 for a couple of nights and the crew were absolutely fantastic to us. Despite not being able to speak a word to any of them, they made us feel right at home. But one of the coolest moments was on the 12am haul, which I was recording. There is a lot more catch on the TEDless boats (mainly because our TED isn't working) and it took around 2.5 hours to sort the catch out. I was just watching them sort through all the stuff and noting down everything that I have to. Then almost out of no where the young guy on the boat, Nazir, I don't know how old he is but probably not much older than 18/19 turns up with this plate of seafood that he has cooked and a bowl of rice. He pulls out these two little stool things they sit on when sorting the catch and invites me to sit down to eat. Whenever we've been offered on anything on the boats before we've declined- we eat before we go out and the hygiene of these boats is questionable at best, and getting sick out at sea when there's no land all night is something that I really don't want to happen. But I couldn't refuse this offer when it was all there in front of me, it would have been too rude. But thank god I didn't as it was absolutely amazing. On the platter there were scallops, baby squid, some kind of fish and the thing I have feared most since I got here- the mantis shrimp. I had seen the fishermen put this thing aside for the pot every day I've been out and I always wondered why. It is the most grotesque looking thing I have ever seen in all my life. It's called a mantis shrimp because it looks like a preying mantis crossed with a shrimp surprisingly. See picture below:

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Ok well it doesn't look too bad there- but trust me in real life it's horrific. Anyway, I started to eat away with this guy- obviously started safely with the scallops which were amazing. Worked up the courage to try the fish, which too was just brilliant. The squid required some work- I had to get him to show me what to do- you pull out the tentacles and eat them, then you bite a bit of the main body off and pull and out pops this black line thing- not sure if it's ink or it's intestines like you get down the back of a prawn but then you chuck that away and can munch down the rest of the body. The squid too was good- I was just trying my hardest to avoid the dreaded mantis shrimp, of which there were quite a few. He was tucking into one and signalled that it was good. I wasn't going to be able to get away with leaving them all so asked him what to do. He prepared me one- you rip of the legs and peel off the shell to reveal the tiniest bit of meat- maybe 3 or 4 cms, which you just pick off. But oh my lord, it is one of the nicest things I have ever eaten from the sea. It might be because I was expecting so little, but it was soft and sweet a bit like lobster. I ended up having 3 of them, something I never thought I would. But it was just really cool eating with the fishermen and it was almost like I had been accepted as part of the crew. We washed up afterwards and he offered me a cigarette, which I didn't decline either as things were going so well haha. It was a menthol one and tasted sort of minty. Don't know if he smokes them all the time or if it was like pudding, but it went down well post feast.

But yeh that was my week pretty much. Very stressful with a couple of amazing highlights. I don't really mind the stress if moments like those keep coming. Anyway enjoy the photos and I'll write again maybe after my rescue course. Off to edit some more video, the joy x

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Posted by mburgass 23:32 Archived in Malaysia Tagged events Comments (1)

Diving, Drinking & Marxan

overcast 27 °C

Just thought I'd give another update, before I head back back up to Kudat tomorrow to continue with the TED trials. I've had a great few days break back here in KK and the thought of going back to Kudat to go out on the fishing boats again makes me shudder. Oh well better get used to it as it's going to be my life for the next 4 weeks. So I came back from Kudat last thursday for my advanced open water course on friday and saturday. I was in two minds about switching to PADI as it means I have to do 2 courses- Advanced Open Water and Rescue Diver to get to the same level as Sports Diver in BSAC, which would be the next qualification I did with them. However, the sheer amount of time it takes to do BSAC courses, I decided to bite the bullet and pay the extra money to do the PADI courses instead. So I rocked up at Jessleton Point to meet up with Borneo Dream who do diving around KK. They are very good friends with Katie Brooks (A friend off my MSc for those who don't know) who they worked with in the Seychelles and also know Nick, my supervisor here very well too so come with good recommendations. It's run by a British couple and they have set up a really good dive operator. All the Divemasters and boat crew were really friendly and made the whole day feel really relaxed and good fun. My instructor, Richard, was absolutely fantastic and we got on really well. I did five dives in total- a deep dive, underwater navigator, underwater photography, multi-level diver and also a Nitrox dive, which is basically enriched air so that you can dive longer and safer. The dive sites were cool, but unfortunately because it has been raining so much the last few weeks, the visibility wasn't good. As low as 3m in places. Still saw some really cool stuff though- this massive cuttlefish was probably the highlight. Saw so much fungia also (mushroom coral) and spent a fair while turning the ones that were upside down the right way up. There was lots of bleaching also- very noticeable. When I was in Egypt I think I struggled to really recognise any bleaching, and generally I don't think there was much. But here the dive sites were littered with bleached coral. This is where the zooxanthellae (the photosynthesising part of the coral) basically are expelled from the coral, and the coral cannot survive without it so dies. The result of the zooxanthellae leaving is that the coral turns bright white all over so it is very obvious. It is not 100% known the causes of coral bleaching, but it is likely to be as a direct result of increases in water temperature. There was a huge worldwide bleaching event in 1998 and it was thought that these would become more common in the future with increases in sea surface temperate. Luckily this hasn't happened again, but it is thought bleaching is once again becoming more common in the Coral Triangle over here. After the last dive on saturday me and richard got back into the boat last and were immediately handed a glass of wine. In one of the dive groups, this guy had proposed to his girlfriend underwater so there was a mini celebration, which was cool.

Saturday night me and Kit met a few people in the hostel and headed out for some beers with them. We then came back a bit later and this British couple had a bottle of dodgy 50% malaysian spirit that was just horrific. It was bright pink. We then headed out to a club about 1am. Again there was a live band playing- it must be a staple of Malaysian night culture. I was standing chatting near this group of Malaysian people who had a big bottle of whisky in the middle of the table and immediately they were pouring me drinks and chatting away, which was a right bonus as it was about £4 for a bottle of carlsberg! So yeh had a good night, which was pretty heavy and headed back to the hostel about 5am for a bit of kip. I think I woke up about 11 and went down stairs to eat some toast. I planned on staying up but couldn't face it and headed back to sleep with a killer headache. Kit somehow managed to stay in bed all day, only to get up at what must have been 8pm. That meant I had to go in search of food solo. Ate in this chinese "coffee shop" as they call them here, but basically a restaurant on the street. Had some pork in a broth with rice. They also give you fresh garlic and chilli to mix with soy sauce, which is just awesome. Love that and get it as much as possible.

Got a reasonably early night in as had to be up early in the morning for this WWF Marxan training conference I'd managed to get myself onto through MRF. It was taking place at the Promenade Hotel and somehow I was the acting representative for MRF. I wasn't totally sure what to wear so I slapped on my linen trousers and a shirt and headed out early in the morning. I rocked up pretty much on the dot in this right swanky hotel and whipped out my WWF invitation and was directed up to the first floor. I registered at the desk thing and was given this pack and a free WWF Marxan t-shirt, which I was pleased about. I went in and sat down and watched the room fill up around me. They were all representatives from various government agencies around Sabah and some NGOs also. It was run by Carissa Klein from the University of Queensland, who I have read a few her papers on marine protected area design before, which was pretty cool. She was really nice and as we were the only white people there, we spent a lot of time talking in the various breaks we had. We started at 9 and then had a break at 10.30 where they served fried noodles outside. I declined, knowing lunch was only a couple of hours away- but that didn't seem to stop anyone else who all munched their way through a huge pile. Lunch was at 12.30 and was the biggest buffet I have ever seen in my life. Literally, rows and rows of different food. Then to top it off there was another break about 3, where they served mini pizzas and cake. I have never seen so many people eat so much food in all my life. They certainly made the most of it! The training was an introduction to Marxan, which is a conservation planning software. It is a type of geographical information system, which basically mathematically plans where protected areas should be from looking at many different types of data both biological and economical. It was really interesting and I think I will look to get some experience of using the programme professionally if I can when I get back to the UK, as it certainly is the future of protected area planning and I can't see people being able to get away without using it when planning MPAs. There was this sort of game during the training where you were given data for all these different areas on a map- which included the cost of establishing a protected area in that grid and the amount of coverage for 3 different habitat types. The idea of the exercise was to work out how to select protected areas to cover a set amount of each habitat type for the lowest cost possible. And I am extremely proud to say I absolutely destroyed the whole room. The absolute lowest score, which was worked out by Marxan was 1786 points and I managed 1845. The next best was about 2400 and then the rest were 3000+, with a lot being up near the 4000 mark. So I got a massive round of applause, which was really cool and immediately boosted my confidence in being there! I chatted to a lot of people, who were really interested in why I was there. I spoke to this guy who has submitted an application for a masters project to work on fisheries landings up in Kudat so offered to show him round and get him out on some fishing boats if he wanted. The more help we have up there the better! So yeh I had a really cool time at the training today and feeling very satisfied with everything. Back up to Kudat tomorrow though. The next week will probably be pretty boring out on the boats, but will write if anything exciting happens. Don't hold your breath though. x

Posted by mburgass 02:50 Archived in Malaysia Tagged events Comments (0)

The Graveyard Shift

Trawlerman

semi-overcast 30 °C

Well I think it's safe to say that the glamorous side of the trip has officially come to an end. I said last time that I was expecting to be up in Kudat, the fishing town, for the best part of a week. However, as seems to happen all the time over here, plans were changed at the last minute and we were now likely to be staying for one to two nights maximum. We were heading up to fix the TED onto one of the fishing boats so we could learn how to do it for ourselves and then attach a couple of video cameras to the net so we could obtain some footage of what goes on to show to the fishermen that they wouldn't be losing any catch. The TED basically comprises of an aluminium grid before the cod end of the net, with bars that are 10cm apart. The idea being that anything smaller than 10cm (prawns) pass through the grid and anything larger (turtles) do not. There is a flap at the bottom of the net just before the TED, which allows turtles or anything else deflected by the TED to be released from the net. This then closes back up due to the flow of water afterwards. The video was just to show how the TED works and that the flap wasn't constantly open, causing catch to escape. Nick was going to try to negotiate with one of the boats to run trials for 3-4 weeks before he headed off to the USA on tuesday for two weeks. It was thought that this task was not going to be easy as it needed the consent of both the boat owner and the captain and crew before it could go ahead. So it was likely to take a few days to mull things over and discuss before anything was agreed to. So.....I packed for a couple of days.

The drive up to Kudat was mostly long and dangerous. It's around 3 hours away and single carriageway the whole way. Lots of dodgy overtaking round bends was quite common and you really have to be careful. I was glad to arrive safely in Kudat at the end of the journey. We checked into the same resort as last time and started work on the video cameras. We had to find a way to attach them to the net so that they were stable. This involved screwing them down to some PVC board and cable-tying it to the net. It sounds like a botch job but is actually very effective! We went out that night for dinner with this Chinese guy, Johnny, who owns an ice factory and his cousin Desmond, owns a lot of fishing boats. They are sort of celebrities in Kudat and very well respected. Nick took them to the USA last year on a trip to show them about TEDs for a couple of weeks and now they are fully behind the project and give us a lot of help. This is a good point to note that a lot of people in Malaysia give themselves English names (like Johnny & Desmond). I'm not totally sure why to be honest and I would have thought that they would have picked names like Wayne, David or Cristiano or something, as everyone is heavily into football. However, they all have weird English names. The guys who work behind the desk at the resort are called Ivan, Leonard and Alfred. Lord only knows why they pick these names, I should find out.

So saturday started slowly- the boats get back in to port around 6-8am so bit unfair to rock up at 9 and start using the crew for things. We ended up attaching the TED about 3 o'clock or something and it takes around an hour to sew into the net, if you're an expert sewer (we got the crew to do it). It would have taken me all day. We then went for a spin and attached the cameras. We went back to port and dropped Nick off as he was going back to KK and then headed out for the first night of five in a row on the trawler. This is the reason why I came to Malaysia and the project that I'm going to be writing up for my MSc. The aerial survey stuff and anything else I do is just me being lucky I guess. But this is going to be my life for the next 3 weeks at least. The idea behind the project is to run comparative trials between a boat fitted with a TED and one without. The most important end result being that the TED does not result in any statistically significant catch loss. This is the main point- if it does then the fishermen won't be interested in it. They honestly could not give a rats arse about turtles. And to be honest, I don't hold it against them. Per boat they only catch 1-5 turtles a year and the vast majority will be around the 1 figure than the 5. So why should they care? Well perhaps they shouldn't, but someone has to because when you look at all the boats in the region, there could be 3,000-4,000 turtles being caught as bycatch every year. The vast majority of which die (trawls last approx. 6 hours and turtles can hold their breath for about an hour in stressful situations such as being caught in a net). This is why it's important. But as one fisherman said- he'd never even heard of the word conservation before he met us. So this is not our selling point for the TED, in fact we barely even mention the word turtle ("penyu" in malaysian). There is an awful lot of rubbish in the sea, however. And this can do an awful lot of damage to your catch if it gets into the net- crushing it and decreasing the quality. You also use a lot more fuel when towing it all around. Luckily the TED does a fantastic job of not only removing turtles, but also removing rubbish. So this is our main selling point to the fishermen. To give you an idea, this huge log was caught in the net the other day (it hangs a good 6 foot over the right hand side of the photo and even more over the left; it was a phenomenal effort getting it out the net. Now this didn't even get down to the TED, but it gives you an idea some of the rubbish that is going to get caught up in a 6 hour trawl.

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So that's the idea of the project and how we're selling it at grass roots. Now I'll speak a bit of my routine over the last 5 days and in the following weeks to come- I may not have much to talk about anymore! We've been doing out early every day- most of the boats leave about 6pm, but we've been leaving about 3.30-4 to get some time in filming before the light dies at about 5 o'clock. It took a few days to get all the angles right on the cameras. We have one behind the TED filming the flap on the floor and one hanging upside down in front of the TED, filming the catch passing through. These cameras cost about USD $350 so imagine our horror when the net is hauled in one time and one of them is missing. Luckily it had passed through the TED and was in the cod end with all the catch and had not escaped out the flap. A lucky escape! We managed to get some good footage but unfortunately we noticed that the flap was hanging open the whole time! We could clearly see catch escaping from it and had to totally rethink our plans. We could not show the footage to the fishermen as they would be horrified- and we could hardly keep on fishing with a net with a great big hole in it- it would have distorted the data and cost the crew money in lower catches. So we had to do a quick think and change the flap. Nick had said it was likely too heavy, so we looked for some smaller, lighter mesh to replace it. It's just been me, mel and gill up there since Saturday night and we don't have any experience when it comes to the technical side of TEDs like this. But one of the crew members worked out exactly what to do and replaced the flap in a couple of hours. Absolute legend- amazing skills and really saved us. We put the cameras on this morning and the new flap seems to be working well, although the light wasn't great so isn't too clear. We had a bumper catch last night though which is very promising.Video below is a clip of the gap in the net- the flap should be sitting flush against the bottom of the TED, but it can be clearly seen that it is not.

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Well I realise I've been writing for ages now and I hope it all makes some kind of sense, apologies if it doesn't. But basically, I've been on this bloody trawler from 4pm to 8am the next day, sleeping on cooler boxes at the front of the boat (modelled below by Gill). It's been relatively uncomfortable, although not drastic. Have taken pillow and huge blanket from the hotel room to aid in comfort. I think they're a bit confused as to why we go out in the afternoon then come back in the following morning looking like total shit. Oh well. The boat hauls at midnight and it takes about an hour to get the net in and sort the catch out. We have to record pretty much everything to do with the catch and then I can get back to sleep until the second haul at 6am. As you can imagine fishing for prawns isn't very selective and there are all sorts of bycatch even with a TED. However, the vast majority of it gets put to use, which is good. Any unwanted fish are sold for fertilizer and the only thing that really goes back into the sea are unwanted inverts such as sea cucumbers and juvenile crabs. I got a pretty cool photo of some bycatch before it's shoved through the hatch, straight back into the sea.

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The first night we slept on the roof of the boat as there are significant amounts of cockroaches and other creepy crawlies on the deck, although they do tend to hide away quite a lot. I've also seen a few rats now and again, which isn't overly cool but I'm trying not to think about it. Lots of hand washing! Unfortunately we didn't know that the top was made of fibre glass so were pretty much cut to shreds, even though they were tiny. Learnt our lesson quickly though. So we get back to the hotel in the morning, I go for a dip and then a shower and then start looking through the video. We have to put all the data into the computer about the catch also. Cameras need recharging and we place them in these containers with silicon something or other to dry the air out so they don't mist up in their underwater casing when filming. We normally go eat before we get on the boat about 2-3 o'clock and have been living like that for the last 5 days. Quite surprised how easy it is living off 1 meal a day, a lot better than I thought It'd be. The fishermen cook some of the catch at night but cook all the weird stuff that I just really don't want to try at all. There is a canned drink over here called 100 plus that I'm slowly becoming addicted to also. It's an isotonic drink and is a real pick up for when you're feeling tired. It tastes like lilt but it's only semi fizzy so it's really good to drink.

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The port itself is interesting. Kudat doesn't get many visitors and me and Gill are literally the only white people (or 'Mat Salleh') in the town, and definitely in the port. 90% of people can't speak a word of english here and the rest can just about get out "hello my friend" or "where you from?" but even so we are sort of celebrities round the port apparently- it's that strange to see us there. Everyone stops what they are doing when you walk past. At first it was very weird and unnerving. It was uncomfortable to say the least. But it's getting better now people are getting used to us being there. The thing with the port is there are a hell of a lot of boats as can be seen from below, and not much space to moor. So if you get a spot by the jetty you are very lucky- otherwise you have to moor up to the nearest boat. and then jump from boat to boat until you get to the jetty. It can be 4 or 5 boats away. The jumps are normally fine but some can be a little scary- more just because I don't want to be the buffoon who misses, which I can certainly see coming if you give me long enough. Fingers crossed though. Anyway, I think that's enough!! Will write again soon- probably tuesday or something as that's when I go back to Kudat. Back in KK for some R&R- diving the next 2 days and got a MARXAN course I managed to get on on monday with WWF. Should be good experience! Some more photos below. x

Oh I went to see Inception last week- very good film although will need to watch it again, makes you think a lot. Only cost £1.50 at the multiplex too- bargain!

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Posted by mburgass 23:39 Archived in Malaysia Tagged events Comments (0)

Nine Mike-Kilo Uniform Lima

Aerial Surveys

semi-overcast 30 °C

wow- what a crazy few days. Have just arrived back in KK and collapsed onto my bed having travelled to the tip of Borneo, right down to the bottom and back up. My travels have taken me from the sleepy fishing village of Kudat in the north to the bustling Chinese logger-town of Sibu in the South, all in the comfort of 9M-KUL in the safe hands of a great captain.

Friday morning we arrived at the airport, and enter through the private terminal. We sit down, have some coffee and watch the safety video of what to do if the helicopter crash lands. This was slightly disconcerting and it seemed to look much worse than if your 747 suddenly dropped from the sky. We all had roles to play and things to do- someone had to chuck the life raft out, someone else bring the medical kit and someone had to bring the ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter). However, these weren't assigned and it didn't appear that we'd decide who did what until we crashed. But fair enough, that was unlikely. So anyway, we strolled through the hanger which held a number of different aircraft. I was hoping for the presidential looking helicopter with wheels and the pointy nose. But we were instead by 9M-KUL, which you can see pictured below in all its glory.

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So we jumped aboard and as we were flying over the sea, you have to wear a life jacket all the way. The engines were fired up, we popped on our headsets, which not only drown out the noise of the helicopter which is REALLY loud but enable you to talk to everyone on board through the microphone. I don't know how many of you have flown in a helicopter- it wasn't my first time but I was too young to remember properly. Taking off is absolutely awesome. First you start hovering and kind of taxi to somewhere where you can take off, flying a foot or two above the ground. Then when the tower gives the go ahead, the captain hits the throttle, you tilt seriously far forward and motor off. It's so much fun, and definitely didn't get old, despite a lot of them. At this point on the first flight I was really having to hold myself back from humming 'Ride of the Valkyries' or saying 'IRENE......FUCKING IREEEENE' (Black Hawk Down) down the mic. Even trying not to call it 'the bird' was hard. But i managed to keep quiet- i think film related helicopter banter would have pretty much fallen on deaf ears anyway. The flight took about an hour to get to Kudat,where when we landed we refuelled. Me and Mel jumped out with all the bags and went to the hotel, while the other 3 (Nick's daughter was with us on this trip) went up to do the first aerial survey of the day. During this whole trip, I feel like I have been totally spoilt. I haven't spent a bean in the last 6 days. We checked into what must have been a 4 star hotel and with nothing to do I just lay around by the pool, reading my book and waited for the others to come back. We grabbed some lunch at the golf club and then just chilled out some more in the afternoon. We all met up for dinner and wandered into Kudat where we ate by the waterfront. There's just 3 dodgy looking chinese restaurants floating on the water. There are cages in the water where they are storing and fattening Humphead Wrasses for export to Hong Kong, where rich businessmen can choose their dinner from the tank- absolutely horrible. Despite looking dingy and unclean the food was easily the best I have eaten here. If that's one thing I have learnt, don't equate the look of the restaurant to the quality of the food and if anything, the dirtier probably means the better! (to a point!). So yeh we ate and drank Tiger, all for free and headed back to get some kip. The next day I went out in the helicopter to run some surveys. Saw a few dolphins and an absolutely gigantic stingray basking at the surface, but unfortunately not what we were looking for (the leatherback!). We hadn't got permission yet to fly into the Philippines, which is what we needed to get further out to sea, so instead we checked out and flew back to KK. We spent the night at the hostel and me and Kit, the British guy here, worked our way through a fair few bottles of beer before calling it a night. And it was up early again in the morning. This time down to Sibu.

So once again we went through the private terminal and this time we had to hand over our passports. Malaysia is divided into 5 states, a bit like the USA, but you need your passport to travel between them and the laws are all different. Because we were flying so far this time, we had another member of crew to take with us- Richard- an engineer to make sure the helicopter was fit to fly every day. Nice to know that they think about these things. He was quality and rang ahead to fix us up some accommodation in Sibu. So we took off and headed south. We tried to fly over the sea as much as possible, but Brunei wouldn't let us so had to fly overland for that part. At one point on the journey we were flying over this Bay and the water was shallow and clear and the place was littered with hardshell turtles. Which was really exciting- finally seen my first turtle over here. We are after the leatherback turtle, however, so as exciting as it was it wasn't getting the job done so after doing a few circles we carried on. About two minutes later Nick, who was sat in the front got ridiculously excited and started shouting 'dugongs' and pointing furiously ahead. We slowed right down and circled this herd of dugongs, of which there were about 35! This is really rare as they mostly operate alone or in pairs. Nick thinks it's the biggest sighting of dugongs in Malaysia in the past 10 years, which was pretty cool and we all felt very lucky!

The trip to Sibu was too far on one tank so we touched down in Miri to refuel. This is basically an oil town and serves the workers of the rigs that you can see from the shore. We weren't there long but we managed to get a look at this helicopter that was in bits in one of the hangers. One of the logging helicopters (pictured below- this one was out on the tarmac) had ditched a couple of weeks earlier and killed the pilot. Apparently they are highly dangerous and the guys that fly them are constantly taking risks, flying too low and too fast. Clearly not a good idea when you're carrying tonnes and tonnes of logs. But yeh we saw inside the cockpit and it was clear which one of them had got it (co-pilot survived) as one side was completely crumpled in. It was weird looking at a helicopter in bits and quite spooky knowing someone had died in there. I didn't take any photos, as I didn't think it was appropriate but it certainly was interesting.

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After that little depressing stop we carried on to Sibu and touched down at the airport, which was 25km from town. On the way over from Miri we hit this localised storm and after trying to skirt round it and realising it was really wide, we had no choice but to carry through it. It was cool as hell- could barely see a thing and rain was lashing down and the little chopper was getting blown around. The captain was literally about to make the decision to land the helicopter in the next clearing he could find when we broke through the otherside into glistening sunshine. Was quite an experience. We landed at the airport and jumped in a taxi and headed to the hotel. By this time it was the afternoon so we all headed out for some free Tigers and drank through the rest of the afternoon. We had an early free dinner with more free Tiger and then headed back to the free hotel room to get some kip. We were up early again in the morning to fly. We woke to the sound of rain outside and headed back to the airport. The clouds looked ok and the rain had stopped but we decided to hang around a bit to see if it burnt off. Nick has to pay for an hours flying anyway if we don't fly so we decided to go have a look. We might as well if we were paying for it. We got about 15 minutes out and it was getting worse, the clouds were really low which was no use for what we wanted to do. So we turned around and headed back. We hung around for a while to see if it would get better. During this time Nick showed us photos of some of the work he's been doing in the last few years. The most amazing one was the work he's done on Dugongs. He's been catching them so he can take things like blood and DNA samples and stick tags on them etc etc. But it is the way that you catch them that is just genius. Baring in mind these things are about 3 metres long, weigh 300kg and can get up to speeds of 30mph, catching them by hand definitely wouldn't have been my first idea on how to restrain them, but that's what they do. They run a boat alongside them and then you jump on them and restrain them by basically holding on for dear life and digging your feet into the sand (They're caught in standing depth water). Someone else then joins in the party and when it's basically restrained more people get involved and calm it down. But still, I've seen the pictures and still find it hard to fathom. Sounds amazing fun though. Anyway, in the end we called it off and headed back to the hotel, where I slept for most of the afternoon. I was ridiculously tired from watching the WC final, which finished about 4.30am here. That night we headed out for more free beer and food as usual and got a good sleep in.

The next day we went off ok and got two lots of surveys in. We still didn't find the leatherbacks though- it's starting to become clear that the IUCN aren't lying about their status as 'critically endangered'. We couldn't fly home that night as the weather wasn't good enough, so had to wait until this morning. I was pleased though as it meant more free stuff and comfy hotel room. So next morning we jumped back in the helicopter and headed home via Miri. Nick and his wife then took us out for lunch when we got back, as if we hadn't been spoilt enough. Good job I got him a huge bottle of 12 year old malt to give him at some point. That'll make me feel somewhat less of a scrooge.

So yeh, that's been my last few days. Taken the afternoon off today and not going into work tomorrow. Doing my PADI EFR course tomorrow so I can do my rescue diver after I complete AOW next week. We're all off to Kudat on friday, with the whole family to start the TED project. Nick's bought some cameras to set up on the net so we can show the fishermen that all their clever little shrimps aren't seeing the opening in the net and heading straight for it as they think they are. I think we'll be up there for the best part of a week, so probably won't write again until then. Have a great weekend watching the Open- if anyone has any tips then please post them as I'm struggling like hell. I will say Shane Lowry at 200/1 is fantastic odds though. Photos at the bottom are just a few snap shots from 'the bird'. speak soon x

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Posted by mburgass 17:11 Archived in Malaysia Tagged events Comments (2)

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