Equipped with gloves, special reef-walking shoes and buckets, around 30 guests of all ages and nationalities are bending their backs at low tide to pick up and collect pieces of dead coral. It’s an unexpected scene at 8am one sunny morning on the shores of tranquil Datai Bay on the northwestern tip of Langkawi in Malaysia.
But the picture delights The Andaman’s General Manager Anne Scott, who is also ankle-deep in water, carefully checking the rocks for any small remnants of living organisms.
After taking up her post at the luxury hotel in mid-2010, the vivacious Scot soon noticed the “black rocks” that were so prominent at low tide. These chunks of dead coral, she discovered, were victims of the 2004 tsunami, climate change and man’s discourteous environmental habits (fishing with dynamite and poisons being among the most unsavoury).
Her decision to do what she could to raise awareness of the situation has spawned a number of activities, such as a daily guided reef walk and a monthly reef-clearing activity, both of which provide guests with an opportunity to learn about and personally interact with nature. In fact, such is the inclusive and enthusiastic character of The Andaman, that guests who are exploring the reef may well find themselves shoulder to shoulder with the driver who collected them from the airport, or the executive chef!
To assist with the project, Anne enlisted Dr Gerry Goeden, a retired marine biologist with a passion to see the reef rejuvenated and restored to beauty. He is hopeful that a coral nursery, to be built early in the new year, will allow the rescued “baby” coral to grow in a safe environment. After six to nine months, the coral will be returned to the reef in a bid to regenerate one of Datai Bay’s greatest assets.
In the spirit of education, The Andaman kids’ club will get children involved. The strong outdoor focus of the club makes use of the stunning natural assets surrounding the resort. Dr Goeden is hopeful that both guests and local village children will become involved in the farming process, and begin to feel a stronger connection with the ocean and its incredible marine life. “The project is as much about education as it is about coral. We hope that each coral we grow will put two or more people in touch with each other, to talk about protecting reefs around the world,” he said.
It is no wonder The Andaman is working hard to protect Datai Bay. This year, National Geographic magazine named it in the top 10 best beaches in the world. Aside from the stunning water, there is a rich variety of flora and fauna to be found in the untouched 10-million-year-old rainforest that surrounds the hotel.
There are no manicured gardens or exotic plants here, simply nature in all its glory. Monkeys, squirrels, monitor lizards and birds are literally everywhere. Participating in a morning or evening walk will reveal flying lemurs, monitor lizards and hundreds of bird species. The resort’s naturalist can point out and tell a story about the many creatures that call this thriving ecosystem home, but about which the majority of us, it must be said, are completely ignorant.
On the beach at sunset, you can while away the last moments of the day watching monkeys forage for food. Their method is simple but effective: stick tail down crab hole and wait for crab to bite; remove tail from hole and eat attached crab. Too easy! Of course, the odd monkey was sighted indulging in an apple or chocolate bar, but that food was taken by much more dubious means.
Many people give no thought to leaving The Andaman’s serenity, seclusion and award-winning spa, but for those with itchy feet there is much to explore and enjoy on Langkawi. There are organised trips to mangroves and local villages or, for the adventurous; sunrise mountain bike rides down Gunung Raya, Langkawi’s highest mountain. It’s also very easy to hire a car to explore more of the island on quiet roads, but keep an eye out for cows and monkeys!
No trip to Malaysia is complete with a breakfast of roti canai, or roti prata as it is known in Singapore. Enjoy it at the hotel buffet breakfast, or for a more authentic experience eat with the locals at Datai Corner. The cook twirls the dough with skill, all the while wearing a gorgeous grin and making sure his children don’t go too near the large hot-plate. Locals stream in and out for teh tarik served with their favourite roti and many pull in on their motorbikes to pick up some takeaway.
About 20 minutes down the road is Pantai Chenang and a little further on is the town of Kueh. They are both good places to shop for souvenirs. For those keen to learn more about food, Laman Padi is a demonstration agricultural park for traditional rice cultivation, planting and harvesting; the albino water buffalo also add some interest. Round off the sightseeing with a lunch of local fare: fresh watermelon juice, tasty seafood and satay at the rustic Rasa Restoran.
Back at The Andaman, guests participating in the coral clearing earn a breakfast of croissants and juice served on the beach. And all can get back to their holiday activities having lived up to the mantra written on the badges distributed to all, “Saving the world, one coral polyp at a time”.
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