Saturday, January 08, 2005

Jan 6: A seaweed farming we will go

Seeding a line Posted by Hello

A participant of the project planting seedlings in her line.

Jairuddin (Jai for short) was to be my guide for the day. He was the other passenger that day on our journey here beside Mr Ramlan and I. He is originally from Kudat and has just recently graduated from UMS with a sociology degree (his thesis was concerning the economic empowerment of local villagers at Banggi through the seaweed project). Promptly around 6a.m. the electricity just died off signalling another day without power. The night had rained and thus the mornings were frigid, not withstanding that I’ve yet to subject myself to the cold morning bath. The first thing I checked was for mosquito bites which thankfully there were none even if I was without a net or blanket.

Breakfast was bought and soon the workers were slowly finding their way to the office where a briefing to inform them of their daily duties ensued. Suddenly even with the bright sunlight that streamed through my window and awaken me early in the morning, the sky just turned grey and rain fell in buckets and the ceiling once again began to leak. I was afraid of this as I was to follow Jai and another worker to the fields this morning. Yet rain or shine I will go since I want to complete my intentions of coming here. Thankfully the rain let up when we were about to leave.

We headed out in three boats, two of the workers left for their respective plots while Jan and I headed to our first destination. It was a simple boat, open top, single outboard engine yet fast. We hit the waves streaming towards us and landed in thuds to the consternation of my poor bottom. The first visit was to the UMS run section at Kaligau. On the way, we were treated to sights of beautiful ocean stretches, clouds heavily dispensing rain on the far off horizon, mangrove lined shores, beautiful sandy beaches, undulating hills and more, truly Banggi is waiting to be discovered and developed into what I imagine would be a great holiday getaway. If you think Redang and Tioman is good, this place is a diamond in the rough which could be valuable with a little polishing here and there.

Kaligau is a tie floatation plot, bottles are strung from end to end and anchored onto the sea bed while lines of strong string is stretched between two point and the seaweed tied onto this line. This is repeated until several parallel lines of seaweed cultures are produced. Already early workers were busy examining the plots, ensuring the lined are still intact as were their contents. Another duty is to scour the lines of algae which would foul the seedlings, Disease such as ice-ice is often watched to ensure the plots are not infected as well as a lookout for signs of epiphytes (the thrust of my research work). It seems turtles are also a nuisance here, often feeding off the seaweed and leaving nothing behind. Several lines are bare and planting was to be conducted today with seedling from old batches prepared for the occasion.

We also visited another farm this time a participant in the seaweed project yet not owned by UMS. These participants are locals which showed interests in cultivating their own plot, under the partnership of UMS they are given allocations of materials to construct their lines as well as seed stocks. From observation, most of the planters are women, the first we met were a mother and daughter team that were busy stringing new seedlings onto their line.

Closeup of seaweed Posted by Hello

The variety of Eucheuma species cultivated in the project.

Two main species cultivated are Eucheuma cottonii and Eucheuma spinosum. These are further subdivided into several subspecies that differ in colour, size, carrageenan (the main product produced from the seaweed) and growth. A surprising fact I learnt was that turtles are more particular of which species they feed on, often decimating cottonii plants and leaving the spinosum. We next zoomed away to another site, Balak-balak nearer to the open ocean. Here three workers were busy scouring algae from the lines. The only complaint they had was that the site has some disadvantages and it seems that the growth rate of the seedlings here were slower as compared to the first site which is located in an inlet and thus sheltered.

Near noon, we once again headed for Kaligau. Here I was given the chance to try stringing the seedlings for planting. The foreman there arrived with newly harvested adult specimens. The floor of the hut (which is located in the middle of the sea amidst the farms) was soaked with seawater to avoid the fronds from drying up and he proceeded to split them into smaller sections. The rest of us took the ones he was done with and proceeded to tie a knot onto the branches. We later headed out to the lines and he again instructed me on how to string the fronds to the lines. We took about half an hour to finish the job and head back. It was a fun experience though I detected no sereng (epiphytes) infestation on the crops while there was a little occurrence of ice-ice. I was told later the season for infection usually starts with the dry season around March to May. Made a last stop at Balak-balak where the workers were taking their break before heading home.

Everything was done round 2 when we broke for lunch and later spent the rest of the day back at the office. We parked the boat at one of the worker’s house and stopped by for lunch and ABC (crushed ice with toppings). The evening Mr Ramlan cooked dinner, chunks of ikan putih in asam soup and long beans. Decided to try the phone lines and called Laura who was not too pleased to hear that I would be back a day later as I initially told her and also found that I could go online (though at only 12 Kbps). Thus ends another day.

New seedlings Posted by Hello

A worker tying the individual seedling for replanting.

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