When I first visited Pulau Perhentian Kecil two years ago, I found a beach where a large monitor lizard liked to hang out. I was told that a German man came every year for a few months and spent everyday on that beach and fed the lizard. I thought that was sweet until I encountered the man and his band of beach gypsies on my most recent trip there.
When we walked over the rocks to the secluded beach we found that there was only a little shade that hadn’t been claimed by the overly tanned and leathery group. We felt like we were invading their beach that they personally owned, which they most certainly do not. I forgot the awkwardness that came with being on “their” beach when I saw that they were trying to save a sting ray…or so I thought. I feel rather stupid now, but I guess I couldn’t fathom the idea that somebody would want to kill a gorgeous sting ray in a protected marine park in a country they don’t even have citizenship in.
I walked up to see what the group was looking at flopping on the beach, only to see a green spotted sting ray. Upon closer inspection, I saw what I assumed was a small anchor stuck in it, because why would it be a spear from a spear gun? I called Dave over to watch them save it. They removed the spear while they held the flailing tail down with a piece of dead coral. The poor thing was terrified, rightfully so, and its eyes were moving around and bulging in every direction. We were both still trying to see the good in people I guess, because when they cut off the tail Dave and I assumed it must grow back like a lizard’s… not so much.
It wasn’t until the guy held it up and said “Food!” that we understood we were gravely mistaken about the intentions of these folks. They weren’t trying to save the creature; they were getting ready for lunch. They fancied the entire marine park as their personal lunch buffet. Self-imposed castaways living in a protected park eating whatever they pleased. We watched on as the fisherman in the group brought back a pink fish and a silver fish to supplement the ray. As the men gutted their spoils on a rock, throwing the innards into the sea, one woman rocked smugly in her hammock while the other spent hours stacking large rocks and pieces of dead coral.
Next to me was a man wearing only a black thong and a silver belly chain, which I must say is not a good look on a sixty year old with skin that could easily be mistaken for turkey jerky. He proceeded to cut and shave down a large piece of washed up styrofoam for some reason I may never understand. Watching the tiny shavings drift into the forest and all over the sand made me sick. Didn’t this man understand that the next fish he will so eagerly kill and eat, will have probably have been eating this disgusting material?
None of the other tourists seem to spend much time on that beach. Those who venture there visit for a few hours at most before they leave due to the awkwardness brought on by the old leather skinned men wearing speedos and even a thong (yuck!), or by the sadness felt while watching them kill gorgeous creature after creature.
What irked us the most wasn’t that they had claimed the beach as their own personal paradise – making visitors uncomfortable, but that Malaysia isn’t their country to ruin. If it were locals fishing we would be disappointed, but it is their country to begin with. How dare these foreigners come to a beautiful marine park in a country that clearly isn’t theirs and pretend that they are free to kill whatever they like in it. I don’t care if it is three fish a day or twenty or even fifty, no amount is okay for them to kill. This isn’t their country and it never will be. They should leave the wildlife alone or stay home. It pains me that the first sting ray I saw was the one being killed by the group of Robinson Crusoe wannabes on the beach.