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River cruise in Kuala Sepetang

A river cruise in Kuala Sepetang was what Mr. Goh (our Team Building specialist) and I were looking for. We knew this area quite well, as we do know Mr. Chuah, owner of a charcoal factory. You may remember my story about him and his business, if not, please read it here.

Kuala Sepetang Matang mangrove forest

Our goal was to explore more possibilities to include in the Ecology Camp program of Mr. Goh's Explore The Wilderness camps.

This time we were looking for a way to go deep in the mangrove swamps. We were looking for a boat, preferable local loggers to show us some of their work, so we would be able to include this in the activities for the Ecology Camps, Mr. Goh offers.

Kuala Sepetang Matang mangrove forest

We would like to offer a possibility to students to learn more about the ecology of the mangroves and going deep in the swamps seems to be the best way.

Unloading mangrove tree cargo

We met these guys when they were unloading and made
an appointment we would join them the next day into the swamps

We went to Kuala Sepetang and found Mr. Deus and his father with a boat full of logs. After some talking they agreed to bring us in the swamps the next day. Technically it was not a river cruise, it was a journey deep in the mangrove forest by boat to see how the loggers were doing their job.

Kuala Sepetang Matang mangrove forest

Around 10 am we left from Mr. Chuah's factory, as boats could not go to landing place due to low tide. We left through small canals with spectacular views. With a clear sky the sun made the views even more spectacular.

Kuala Sepetang Matang mangrove forest river cruiseThe boat was not a tourist boar, it was a 40 years old wooden boat made for cargo of logs.


Loggers go in the mangrove forest to chop mangrove trees for mainly two reasons: charcoal and construction.

The thicker and older logs are used in charcoal factories like Mr. Chuah's. Younger trees are chopped for construction.

A logger chops around 300-400 trees within 2 days. That is an awful lot.

Boats like ours collect the logs. They will go in the swamp for about a week and collect the trees.

Loggers work in pairs. There are strict regulation what and how to chop. All chopping goes with axes, imported from England. The regulation is that after chopping a younger tree, no other tree with 4 feet from the tree is allowed to chop. For older and bigger trees this is 6 feet. This is to give the forest the opportunity to grow again. The rules seem to be very strict.

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.

When we went from the open canal into the logging zone, Mr. Deus told me that the area we were passing was a no logging zone for the next 15 years as it were all young and growing trees. Indeed it seemed here I witnessed sustainable logging by people who understand that having a life with the mangrove forest requires sustainable logging.

Deep in the swamps

Now we left the main river-arm, not far from the open sea. It was low water, no more then about a 2 meter deep until a point even the boat couldn't go further as the depth was about one meter. We had to wait until the tide would come in, which would take about another hour or so.

Kuala Sepetang Matang mangrove forest
Shells connected to the roots of the mangrove trees, nowadays less and less due to overfishing

It gave me the opportunity to swatch some of the shells which had grown onto the roots of the mangrove trees. In the past the shells had been much bigger but the local fishermen had harvested most of it so only deeper in the forest you still find some left.

The same goes for crabs, crocodiles, monitor lizards and other animals. This part of sustainable conservation has still to be developed. In Malaysia (as in many other parts of the world), nature is still too much seen as an economical factor without understanding enough of the consequences it has to misuse.

So, no crocodiles and crabs for us. However, we did see otters at the riverbank which was amazing.

The mangrove forest was an oasis of peace. It was low water and our boat had to go in the small canals backwards. After a while maneuvering we saw the first logs. As the canals were incredible small it took all the skills of the skipper to bring the boat deep in the swamps.

Kuala Sepetang Matang mangrove forest
Deep in the mangrove forest at low water

Soon the loggers showed up to their stake and started to fill the boat. Even though there were in this area alone quite a few stakes, the forest seemed hardly been affected. Here and there I saw a chopped tree.

What mostly amazed me was how sense the forest was. These trees, all very straight, standing close to each other making a view through the forest difficult and still, it was very light too. The trees do not carry a lot of leaves which give sunlight the possibility to come down at the swamp floor.

While the loggers started filling the boat, the tide came in. To my surprise the water flowing in quite fast. The picture above was made about an hour earlier then the one below.

Kuala Sepetang Matang mangrove forest

The tide comes in and much of the swamp now floods

By now the loggers had filled the boat and it was time to get out of the swamps. Now I expected with the high water and the boat going forward it would be easier. It was in fact much more difficult. The waterway was less clear although it had more water. Again the skipper had to use all his skills to get the boat out of the small canals while monkeys were watching us.

Back in the main canal we saw fishing boats and cockle fishermen coming back to the Kuala Sepetang village.

River cruise in Kuala Sepetang

We couldn't get off at Mr. Chuah's charcoal factory, the water was too high so we continued through the small canals to the place we had met Mr. Deus and his father the day earlier.

The swamp here was even less deep, just a meter or so with high water and we had to be careful with many tree branches so close by.

Deep in the mangrove forest

Soon we arrived at the departure area. Other boats had already arrived and were bringing logs on land. We said goodbye to Mr. Deus and his father who had been so kind to bring us with them. While we were on our way out, we saw the woodpeckers flying on and off as if they were waving us goodbye too.

More photos of Kuala Sepetang and the river cruise at our Facebook page here

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