Life on the water’s edge – Mapur Island

Today, we visited one of the local islands, Mapur. Mapur Island is situated within Kabupaten Bintan, an area of 4729.05 km² that is protected for its rich marine biodiversity. It is located approximately 16 kilometres east of Bintan and is famous for some dive sites such as the Igara Wreck that sits at the bottom of the sea at 40m. This is considered a locally managed marine area, a system of community-based management. I’ve seen some dive companies offering opportunities to explore the area, but most of these are from liveaboards and through day trips. It’s really nothing like living together with the community.

Going onto Mapur is like stepping back into time. It’s rustic nature and quaint little kelongs (houses and fish farms on stilts) are particularly charming. Most of the residents within the island rely exclusively on fishing for their livelihood. There are multiple methods for catching fish, but one of the most common methods is to set fish traps made from chicken wire along the seabed with a bit of bait.

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Fish traps hanging underneath a house in Mapur

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Rooster perched on top of a fish trap

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Some of our Seedlings youths from Bintan, really bright kids who join the CSR team at Banyan Tree Bintan to learn about environmental issues and to partner with resort staff for a vocational mentorship program.

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Our cosy home for the night that was literally on the water’s edge!

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Taking a walk in the morning around the island. Thanks for the photo Francisca! 🙂

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After we had settled into a new home for the night, we took the Seedlings out to snorkel. There was heavy rain and it was so cold and windy outside that jumping into the sea felt like going into a jacuzzi. All the same, even though there was very heavy rain, that didn’t dampen our spirits.

Most of the youths we had from Seedlings weren’t strong swimmers, so we took some time on a sandbank to teach them how to snorkel with a life vest. For those who were more confident, we taught them how to float and try basic swimming strokes so they could keep themselves afloat.

Snorkelling trip with the Seedlings (Photos: Henry Singer)

I was so proud of them for overcoming their fear of the water. Everyone started off rather shy and hesitant at first, but by the end of the day, they were splashing around and having a whale of a time. It was also heartening to see a giant clam and coral nursery a short 5 minute boat ride away from the stilt houses on Mapur.

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That’s a pretty good sized clam right there! One of 50 clams protected within Mapur’s clam conservation program. As we were snorkelling along the reef, it was great to see a giant clam every now and then peeking out from the reef!

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Visibility wasn’t the best in the water especially after the rain, but it was clear that the fragments of Acropora they had on their table nursery were thriving particularly well.

I learnt that these conservation projects were led by the organization Balai Pengelolaan Sumberdaya Pesisir dan Laut (BPSPL), or in English, the local Centre for Coastal and Marine Resource Management and carried out by Lembaga Pengelola Sumberdaya Terumbu Karang Desa Mapur or the Coral Reef Resource Management Institute of Mapur Village. Mapur Island, being part of the Marine Protected Area, is of high conservation priority, planned with the hopes that such conservation projects will increase the welfare of communities and the area’s potential for tourism. Apart from protecting the clams in nurseries, efforts to raise awareness among the locals to refrain from hunting these clams have also been put in practice.

Giant clams are among some of my favourite marine animals because of the striking iridescent flesh they have within their shells. The colours are so unearthly, it reminds me of the Milky Way. For giants, they’re shy and sensitive to light, retreating if you try to come too close. They are filter feeders, but also rely on symbiotic algae for an extra dose of nutrition.

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Infographic courtesy of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute

Giant clams are particularly threatened around the world, and in Asia, are often harvested for their shells and meat. However, they are incredibly important reef-building animals and luckily, the protection of these beautiful molluscs have stepped up in recent years. In Indonesia, two species of giant clams, the fluted giant clam (Tridacna squamosa) and boring –as in embedding rather than uninteresting– giant clam (Tridacna crocea) are considered locally endangered. Mapur alone is currently home to four species of clams (From most common to least common: Tridacna crocea, T. maxima, T. derasa and T. squamosa). 

One of my favourite overviews of giant clam conservation by Dr Neo Mei Lin in her TED talk over here:

 

Thank you to the Banyan Tree Bintan Conservation Lab for organizing such an amazing trip! And I can’t wait to explore more of the waters around Bintan soon!

 

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