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River Cruise Kuala Sepetang


The day after the river trekking we did a river cruise. We went to Kuala Sepetang. We had been there before, you may recall the page I wrote about the Charcoal Factory. This time we wanted to go deep in the mangrove swamps and see what there would be to see.

Mr. Deus' father, waiting on a full boat
Mr. Deus' father, waiting on a full boat, we used this boat
for our river cruise to go in the swamps

It was our lucky day, we found Mr. Deus and his father. They have a loggers boat. One week a month they go in the swamps to collect logs which are cut by loggers who live in the swamps.

The phrase "river cruise" suggest we had a nice comfortable boat. Nothing was further from the truth. We went with the loggers on the boat on the photo here.

Mangrove forest, Kuala Sepetang
Starting point for our river cruise, behind Mr. Chuah's Charcoal Factory

First we had to go to Mr. Chuah's charcoal factory (see the Charcoal Factory page). At low water the boats leave. It was a short walk through the mangrove forest and then we sat on the boat.

Kuala Sepetang Matang mangrove forestThe canal was small and the jungle looked very dense. Soon the canal became wider and we passed the Kuala Sepetang village.

Several fishermen were busy with their catch of the day. Some had fish, others had come back with huge amount of cockles.

This time we were not interested in their business. We wanted to see the swamps.

It's quite a big river arm that connects the village with the open see, a few kilometer further.

Here I got my first surprise: sea otters. I had never seen wild sea otters, I didn't even know they were living here. I was expecting to see monitor lizards as there are plenty of them here. I expected to see many eagles (we DID see many eagles) and other birds. I was hoping to see a crocodile but they are very rare nowadays.

Sustainable logging ... Kuala Sepetang

Sustainable logging ... Kuala Sepetang

Soon we went from the main arm into shallower water. This river arm was still wide though not very deep. At one moment, we had to wait until the high water was flowing in. Our boat was now able to penetrate the mangrove jungle.

Kuala Sepetang Matang mangrove forest
The open canals with young mangrove trees on the riverbank. If you're lucky you will spot animals as eagles, monitor lizards and if you are really lucky some sea otters.

Mr. Goh told me he would be able to walk through the mud to the loggers but I doubted. I remembered walking on the wad, the muddy area in between the Dutch mainland and the islands north of the mainland.

The mud looked soft but Mr. Goh gave it a try. Almost immediately he realized he had the wrong shoes. Later we saw the loggers with long trousers and sock over their trousers wading deep in the mud and water.

Mangrove jungle

The canal was very small and there was not a lot of water. Our skipper was an experienced sailor but he too needed to use all his skills to get the boat through the canal.

Although we saw trails of wood chopping, the forest was still dense through light. The mangrove trees do not have a lot of leaves and even through the jungle was dense, there was plenty of sunlight coming down.

Mr. Deus used the mangrove "telephone" by knocking loud on the boat. The sound echoed very far and soon the loggers showed up. Pile by pile was brought to the boat. 300 to 400 logs would be transported per boat.

The Mangrove jungle is dense but also very light
The Mangrove jungle is dense but also very light

Sustainable logging

Logs waiting to be collected
Logs waiting to be collected

"300-400 logs per boat? How long before the forest is gone?" That was the question when I heard those figures. My initial thought was that this was not much sustainable logging. When we went in the mangrove forest I got more information.

Here's the general rule. It is not allowed to chop young trees in an area of 4 feet of an already chopped tree. The surrounding for older trees is 6 feet. This way the forest gets space to renew. Some areas are totally forbidden for logging for a period of 15 years. These areas are usually filled with young mangrove trees that have little economical value so the loggers stay out anyway.

Animal life

Animals do not have the protection the mangrove forest has. Obviously this is because of the local economy. The whole north west coastline of Malaysia lives from the fishing industry. Kuala Sepetang lives also from the mangrove forest. Thus there are regulations to make sure the next generations will be able to have a life of the fishing and mangrove forest.

The problem is that many animals are caught with the result that there are no more crocodiles, crabs, hardly monitor lizards, otters and other animals live in the swamps. Shellfish that grow on the roots of the mangrove forest are almost all taken away.

Shellfish growing on the roots of the mangrove trees
Shellfish growing on the roots of the mangrove trees, unfortunately the
shells are mostly harvested as the protection of the mangrove only includes
the mangrove, and it doesn't include animal live.

There are hardly any crabs left. The fishermen go deeper and deeper in the forest to harvest them. The only animal I saw plentiful were eagles. So even though I was excited to be in the forest and I really enjoyed our trip, there are a few points that do need attention. The Malaysian government is doing some things but there's always more needed.

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