Redang Island – What’s Killing the Fish?

Redang Island, Teluk Dalam KecilRedang Island Teluk Dalam Besar

We visited Redang Island last month. Redang is a beautiful island off the east coast of Terengganu, close to the Perhentian Islands. It boasts pristine, uncrowded beaches and clear turquoise water.

The area is a protected marine park and is said to have the world’s most mature coral gardens.  The island is home to the largest population of nesting green turtles in Peninsular Malaysia and we even saw one swimming up close to the beach one evening, a very rare occurrence these days.

There was virtually no litter on the beach or in the sea but there were quite a lot of dead fish floating around and washed up on the shore. When I say ‘a lot’ I’m talking dozens rather than thousands but still quite unusual. They included parrot fish and other exotic tropical species like this colourful chap.

Dead Fish at RedangThere was no indication of what was causing these fatalities. Later I read a newspaper article reporting that this problem was affecting a large area off the east coast of Malaysia and may be due to toxic algae blooms caused by higher than normal sea temperatures. More evidence of climate change perhaps? Or a normal phenomenon triggered by El Nino?

Green turtles are herbivores and supposed to feed on algae. Perhaps there just aren’t enough turtles anymore to keep the algae blooms under control.

Perhentian Islands

Local fishing boat

I’ve just returned from a few days break at the Tuna Bay Island Resort on the scenic Perhentian Islands which are located a few miles off the Terengganu coast on the eastern side of Peninsula Malaysia.

perhentian islands

To get there, we flew on AirAsia from KL to Kota Bharu. It was the sort of hassle-free flight I enjoy. Already checked-in online and with no baggage and no passport control to worry about, we just passed through the security check directly into the departure lounge. A short wait for the flight to be called, then a stroll out to the plane for the 50 minute flight. On arrival at Kota Bharu, we walked straight out into the greeting area where Tuna Bay’s representative was waiting. Then came an hour’s mini-bus transfer through interesting kampungs and rural scenery of Kelantan and Terengganu to the boat jetty at Kuala Besut where we caught Tuna Bay’s speed boat (not so speedy) out to the islands, a journey which took a further 45 minutes.

The beach in front of the resort.

We were staying on Perhentian Besar (Big) from where we had a good view of the smaller island (Kecil). The Tuna Bay resort comprises 40 or so wooden chalets, fairly basic, but clean and comfortable enough with hot water and aircon. We had connecting rooms which was handy for our family group. Being October, the resort was running an end-of-season promotion so the rates were reasonable (this east coast of Malaysia is affected by the north-east monsoon between November and March causing rough seas and making the islands almost inaccessible by sea and most resorts close down for a few months.)

Perhentian Besar Low Tide

The resort is sited on a stretch of soft white sand (though speckled with pieces of broken coral) overlooking clear turquoise water and snorkeling is possible right in front of the resort. At low tide you can just walk out to the coral. The abundant fish are friendly and inquisitive, probably accustomed to being fed pieces of bread from the hotel’s breakfast buffet. The Perhentians are a protected area under the watchful eye of the Marine Parks Department. Their list of good practices includes no fins for snorkelers to prevent people from standing on coral or breaking bits off with their fin tips. I can understand their motives but for me snorkeling without fins is not so enjoyable. Despite the Marine Department’s best efforts, the coral in front of the resort has inevitably been degraded and to see more pristine coral we took a boat ride out to Turtle Bay and the D’Lagoon bay on the north east tip of Perhentian Kecil. I didn’t manage to see any turtles (apart from some baby hatchlings in a pond at the D’Lagoon hotel) but there was rich coral life and plenty of colourful fish in the deep clear water.

New born turtle at D'Lagoon It's a hoot here! Perhentian Besar

From the boat you could see various chalet developments dotting the beaches, some scruffy, mostly basic and none particularly luxurious. There was some small scale development going on along the shoreline but the hilly interior of the islands remains largely untouched, coated in thick impenetrable-looking forest. The Perhentians are not quite the unspoilt island paradise that some websites would have you believe but if you are looking for a relaxing no-frills holiday or you want to get your kids away from TV and computer games this could be the place for you.