A walk around Pulau Tengah with Ökologie Naturalist Simon Buckell

Simon Buckell, our resident Naturalist at Ökologie, takes you on a virtual guided tour around Tengah Island introducing some of the island’s wildlife as he goes and pointing out the best places to spot a turtle or five!

Back in June last year I was asked if I would like to join the (then BRISC, now Ökologie) team on Pulau Tengah at its early stages to carry out avian and marine wildlife surveys. This kind of opportunity does not come along often and so of course I jumped at the chance and arrived on the Island in September.

During my short but enjoyable time on the Island (7 weeks) we observed and recorded 105 different species of bird on and around the island. Some of the Interesting species included Brown Booby, Christmas Island and Lesser Frigatebirds, Bulwers Petrels, Sooty & Bridled Terns, Red Necked Phalaropes, Nicobar Pigeon, Grey Faced and Oriental Honey Buzzards, Japanese Sparrow-hawks, Black Bittern and a Hoopoe. Common sightings included the colourful Brown Throated Sunbirds, Pied Imperial and Pink Necked Green Pigeons, Black Naped Orioles, White Rumped Sharma’s, Brahminy kites and White Bellied Sea-Eagles that drift lazily in the pale blue skies above.

Several pelagic surveys provided early indications that marine life is rich in the surrounding waters with 3 species of Turtle seen which included Hawksbill, Olive Ridleys and the most numerous being Green Turtle. Dolphins are always a privilege to encounter and I had suspected that they could be in these waters but maybe difficult to locate so when a small pod of 7 Indo Pacific Bottle Nosed Dolphins with a young calf appeared during a routine pelagic trip this proved the importance to both the surrounding waters and our surveys.  Otters have been seen just offshore from the main resort beach as well Turtles, Dugong and a Frasers Dolphin that graced the presence of the lucky few present one afternoon. The list of wildlife is getting longer as the surveys continue but for the purpose of this blog post I thought I would take you for a “virtual” guided tour of the island.

Sunrise at dawn over the island

Small section of the trail

Starting off from the back of the resort area you walk up the small hill and then descend along and in to the forest trail. At first all appears to be quiet but by standing still, being quiet and listening, it is not long before you hear the calls of birds such us that of a White Rumped Sharma, Magpie Robins or even a Mangrove Whistler with a bit of luck. Then as the walk continues you will reach the first viewing area of the eastern side of the island. Here you can take in the scenic beauty that surrounds Batu Batu with the islands of Pulau Tioman, Pemanggil and Aur all clearly visible in the distance. As you continue your walk the forest becomes slighter darker with the dappled rays of sunlight shining through the open areas of the canopy above. Stopping en route and again by listening and looking, species of colourful birds such as Warblers, Sunbirds, Orioles and more can be seen. Not before long you reach the main observation point where again another scenic view awaits you at an elevation of 54 meters above sea level. This time you are at the north face of the island over looking the island of Pulau Rawa and the smaller surrounding islets. Here you can sit down and enjoy the view with some chilled fresh fruit and a refreshing drink and wait to see what aerial species of bird pass over head. Here the list can be impressive with species of migrating Raptor, (diurnal birds of prey) such as Hawks, Eagles and Buzzards with Swifts and Swiftlets, Beeaters, and colourful Black Naped Orioles all having been recorded throughout the survey period.

One of the many colourful Brown throated Sunbirds that are found on the island

As the trail continues you begin your descent where you arrive over-looking the fresh water marsh area to the south of the trail and then you will arrive at the far end of North Beach. Depending on the state of the tide you will now begin to encounter different species of resident bird such as the colouful Collared Kingfishers, Pacific Reef Egrets, Blue Heron, Common Sandpipers and other species of wading birds

North beach at low tide

A Dark Morph Pacific Reef Egret feeds at the exposed reef during low tide at North Beach

A quick look at the marsh area will reveal more resident species such as Dollar-Birds, Pied Imperial and Pink Necked Green Pigeons along with more Orioles present and maybe something more interesting like a Black or Yellow Bittern (again both species were recorded during the assessment surveys). Here there are also always many colourful dragonflies and butterflies resting up on the stems of grass on the water’s edge.

As you continue walking you are soon at the join of North & Long beach Beach where the waters are perfect for a paddle or swim.

Long Beach - perfect for a swim

The area just offshore is of open sea grass and so is an important area for turtles to feed. Grab your mask and fins and take a snorkel if you wish. Here the small, playful and colourful Clownfish may approach close to “investigate” you if you swim in their direction. Or just take it easy sitting under the shade of one the trees and take in the beautiful view but always remember to keep an eye out for those turtles! Depending on the time of year numbers will fluctuate depending the their nesting cycle and you may see one, two, three or more as they come up to the surface for an in-take of air before dropping beneath the surface to feed. We had five Green Turtles all visible at the surface one afternoon as we sat there taking in the view.

As you complete the final stage of your round-island walk you will reach the Ökologie centre and island Beach Bar where our team of researchers and divers will be on hand to answer any questions you have. There is also a small reference book library available for your use.

As you head back to the resort area take in a cold drink of your choice at the restaurant bar, sit in the shade over looking the bay just beyond the reef. It is here where you can see a varied selection of bird and marine life. This area is also good for turtle sightings and otters have been seen feeding and playing in the area as well a Frasers Dolphin and Dugong.

White Bellied Sea-Eagle

The sun setting as seen from the restaurant bar

Hope to see you on Pulau Tengah some time soon.

Simon

Simon left our island and Malaysia in November 2011 and followed the birds migrating south. Since then, he has been in New Zealand and most recently in North Western Australia on a Wader ringing expedition. He will be returning to Batu Batu and Pulau Tengah in two weeks time as our resident Naturalist. The guided nature walk will be one of the Ökologie activities available at Batu Batu. Read more about Simon’s travels on his blog

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A wooden tree heart and news…

It’s been too long – 2 months since I last posted. So – here’s a wooden tree heart for Valentines Day and a promise to post more regularly as we ramp up towards finishing Batu Batu!

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And some quick pics that walk you through some of the happenings on Pulau Tengah over the past couple of months… (where the monsoon has not really been a monsoon).

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The view from one of the Northern Ocean Villas.

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Looking out from the spa.

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Work on Ökologie started and is moving at quite some pace.

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TThe dive centre in progress.

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A southern Ocean Villa taken from the first beach

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Almost there! Picture taken from the villa bedroom looking into the villa bathroom. Ignore the mess and use some imagination…!

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Other news on our side: we’ll be posting our room rates very very soon – so watch out for these. We’ve also been busy recruiting staff for the resort, buying everything – all sorts from forks, knives to cushions, books, sheets, lanterns and the list just goes on… Our first reservation enquiries have come in – and we’ve received a few enquiries about booking out the whole island for weddings. Amazing and magical! See you on Pulau Tengah very soon.

OH – and LIKE us on Facebook as we’ll definitely run a LIKERs offer when we kick-off our reservations.

Christmas Greetings from BB (and btw the weather can be amazing even if it’s officially monsoon!)…

The festive season has crept up on us and again I have to ask where time went. I have – yet again – seriously neglected the BB blog – so before everyone leaves their desks and chucks their blackberries aside I thought I would give you a quick rundown of affairs on BB and tell you that the weather and sea CAN be amazing over the monsoon (when most of the other islands have shut down for the season). These pics were taken just last week.

And we could even see the coral quite clearly from the boat – something which is generally not the case from November to February.

Elswhere at Batu Batu we are into serious countdown and get-moving mode with opening year 2012 hurtling towards us at breakneck speed. We still have the April Fool’s date etched in our minds but have decided that this will be a soft-opening phase for guinea pig friends and associates willing to forgive BIG in exchange for time on an idyllic island paradise. We will announce a full-public opening date as soon as a few more hurdles have been cleared.

So to recent events. Our jetty should be being piled as we speak – but two weeks ago the barge setting off for Pulau Tengah from Endau carrying the piling materials got stuck in the mud on the river bed just off mainland and a waiting game was played for a few days whilst everyone sat patiently and waited for the tide to rise high enough to dislodge the beached barge. We are also currently loading two further barges to carry all the rest of the construction materials including interior finishings (plaster board, built-in wardrobes), our kitchen equipment (!) and everything to build BRISC on our long beach.

To BRISC – I can actually unveil that we have a new name for BRISC. BRISC was too common – google and you’ll see – (perhaps one of my favourites being Bus Route Information System for Chennai City…). But I’ll save the new name for a post of its own – and for when it is officially registered with the Malaysian companies’ commission. On the (for now we’ll call it) BRISC front – we have John (dive professional and more), Lali (permacultur-ist) and Simon (naturalist) all joining us. Look forward to a programme of nature-based experiences, protection projects and flourishing herb and vegetable gardens. Watch this space for updates on how this all goes.

We were recently on the island with Lightcraft KL – who by the way managed to drive from KL to Mersing in 3 hours!!! – minds buzzing about lighting, effects, colours, placement. We tried out some LED lighting in the restaurant – which was much warmer than I was led to believe and amazing how much light a 3 watt “bulb” can give. We are just waiting now for their complete proposal to arrive!

Dominic Sio our “design man” also joined us and saw the island for the first time – more creative mind-buzzing, brain-storming, styling and fabric and colour sorting. Oh and we have our new logo thanks to Dom. Again not 100% finalised but look here for a taster.

http://issuu.com/stimulimagazine/docs/bb01

Night night. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Hopefully 2012 will be a great one for all!

A hotchpotch of goings-on at Batu Batu

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted about where we’re at on Pulau Tengah. And then it all piles-up and there’s just too much to write about. So here’s a little list / synposis to get us up to date:

Since I last posted things have been moving and we’re hopeful that Batu Batu will be open (if not to everyone – at least to our guinea pig friends) in April 2012. Right now, we have a full work force on the island – Hashim, Sham and Rastam are moving to finish all the structures in the main resort – mainly finishing touches like the walls around each villa’s outdoor shower, steps up to the verandah, indoor finishings to ready the villas for the arrival of Su San and her concrete polishing team.

A big barge arrived about a week ago and brought with it tonnes and tonnes of material plus a big digger. The pool has been dug and is currently being worked on. Some coconut trees had to go – but some were transplanted and others will be used as bumpers for our jetty’s legs. Tee, Leong and his men are busy working on the interiors for our two mock-up villas. I’ll wait to show some pics when they are ready (hopefully within a couple of weeks).

Ian the BRISC architect from Arkitrek has visited us twice to place the BRISC buildings. Work on the Long Beach should start soon. Frank Wilson a sewage and waste water expert also visited us and is now designing a state of the art water system for Batu Batu – so that you can safely drink water out of all resort taps without needing to boil it, the grey water will be recycled to flush the loos and we’ll have plenty of good (and non-smelly!) compost for our vegetable and herb garden.

I visited Hugues and Roberto in Yogyakarta a few months back and they have been busy working on a furniture proposition for Batu Batu – lovely FSC-certified recycled teak furniture. Here’s a picture of their workshop with the old wood piled in the centre. I’ve also stuck in a rendering done by their designer Bayu – who creates amazing 3D images of Batu Batu from scratch so you can get an idea of what things will look like with the furniture in place.

Last week we had Hung from Ho Chi Minh City visit us on PT – a curtain-maker who has provided curtains and blinds for various Six Senses resorts in Vietnam. And we also announced that Evert Onderbeke will be joining Batu Batu as Executive Chef in the new year. We are very excited about this as Evert has excellent credentials – Executive Chef at High Tide KL – winner of Time Out KL’s Best Seafood Restaurant, himself shortlisted for Outstanding Chef of the Year 2010 and mentored by 2-Michelin star chef Roger Souvereyns. We are really looking forward to working together with Evert to create a great dining experience for our guests – conducive to the location and in the spirit of the resort’s aim to source locally and sustainably. Evert will join us in the new year which gives him some good time pre-opening to make friends with the local fishermen, source the best ingredients and create the right menu. We’re really looking forward to some great food!

Talking about making friends with fishermen, we have Simon Buckell – a volunteer from the UK with excellent birding experience – working with us at the moment, conducting some initial studies and creating observational logs on PT and the surrounding area’s wildlife. Together with Hakim, a Wild Asia intern, Simon has been having a taste of life on PT over the past weeks as well as experiencing life onboard local fishing boats with some local fishermen. We’ll get some of his stories posted on the blog in the near future – but here are some of his pictures so far.

On an entirely different subject, we’ve ordered some lovely bikinis for the BB Boutique from Mileti – a new Singapore-based swimwear company. It can be very difficult to find good swimwear out in these parts and we’re pleased to have found and to be supporting a local business. Here’s a sneak preview of the swimwear you might find at the BB boutique.

And last but not least, a couple of people pointed me towards Dominic Sio (thanks Niki and Mike!), a Penang-ite returned from years in Europe – described as a branding genius, a veteran of the fashion / creative / design / branding industry – Dom is helping us create Batu Batu The Brand. Here are a few inspirational ideas he has been feeding us with.

Until next time…

High Fashion on Pulau Tengah – Photographs by Eric Frideen

Swedish fashion photographer Eric Frideen is hardly unfamiliar with exotic islands and beautiful beaches – travelling to beautiful locations to photograph beautiful subjects in beautiful clothes is part and parcel of his job. And so, we were lucky enough to have Eric point his lens at Pulau Tengah when he, his wife Niki and their large extended family spent a week-long family reunion on the island in 2009. Here is a selection of Eric’s beautiful photographs.

A little bit about Eric: Swedish born photographer Eric Frideen started out assisting several international photographers in his late teens before taking the step to set up on his own in Stockholm, Sweden. After establishing himself as one of his country’s leading talents he decided to move to London in 1997 and has since worked with many international clients. They include Banana Republic, Nautica, Burberry, Thomas Burberry and Gerard Darel and editorials for British Elle, British Marie Claire, Austalian Harpers Bazaar, German GQ, US Vogue and numerous other international magazines. He is currently based in London but travels the world extensively always keeping his cool, calm skandinavian style.

More about Eric Frideen here:  http://www.serlinassociates.com/#/ericfrideen/biography/http://www.eric-frideen.com/

A weekend on Pulau Tengah by Dada Bacudo

When I put out a call for volunteers for our reef and island centre project on Lonely Planet’s forum, Dada Bacudo, an environmental manager (recently back in SE Asia after a stint in Uganda) answered my call. A flurry of emails followed and 48 hours later, Dada was en route to join our expedition to hatch a plan on our little island…

I was in Bangkok recently, looking for information on diving sites on the internet when I encountered a call for volunteers to help out with a conservation project for a resort currently being built in Pulau Tengah, Malaysia. I am an environmental manager experienced in working with finances for national parks, and currently with time on my hands I decided to contact Cher Lassalvy, the owner of Batu Batu resort. Cher kindly extended an invitation for me to join a group of natural scientists from Wild Asia who were already familiar with the initial stages of the project. Without much knowledge of the location at first, I thought “Why is my plane ticket bound for Singapore? I thought we’re going to Malaysia?” Not knowing how exactly I could contribute, I set about with optimism and began my little adventure in Pulau Tengah.

A vision was planned

I learned later that Pulau Tengah is a tiny island located within the jurisdiction of Johor, a state in Southern Malaysia, which is next door to Singapore. Batu Batu occupies a good portion of the whole island, and to get there first entails a trip to Mersing, which is where the jetty to other more famous islands in Malaysia such as Pulau Tioman is located. From Mersing, it takes 40 minutes on a slow boat, and only 20 minutes on a speedboat.

As I caught my first glimpse of Pulau Tengah with its gleaming white sands, Reza Azmi, the ED of Wild Asia, pointed out a strip of long beach which he is proposing to be allocated for a research study centre. I agreed that it was a wonderful idea and suggested that we began focusing and talking about this project during the weekend. Reza and his team at Wild Asia have been on the island on several occasions to assess and suggest plans for the hotel’s environmental sustainability direction. I admire Cher and Dato Chua, her father’s commitment to build this place with environmental values in place.

On our first day, we were greeted with coconut juices and later sat down and put our heads together to articulate a commonly agreed vision for the resort. After a while, with more refreshments and lively discussions, Batu Batu Reef Island Study Centre (BRISC) was born. BRISC is envisioned to be a research centre that offers opportunities to study nature in a pristine environment in ways not possible in other areas. A big job ahead but extremely exciting!

We also discussed having volunteers to assist in reef and turtle population monitoring as these are the two concrete projects that need urgent attention. We also emphasized on BRISC’s biggest strength that is the commitment of landowners and resort owners to environmental protection, an issue some resort operators find challenging to grapple with.

Two days of nature trips

Among the Wild Asia team is an intrepid birder (aren’t they all?) named Dave Bakewell who went around the island to assess its biodiversity. Dave always came back with photos which are magical in their quality. As a non-biologist, all I can say is that where birds are abounding, other biological qualities thrive. Cher and I took to the waters by snorkeling, and I was quite happy to see a lot of marine life thriving underwater despite obvious challenges that the marine life in Southeast Asia face in recent years, such as the El Nino phenomenon.

What I marveled at the most in Pulau Tengah is the variety of beaches that the resort is bound to offer. There’s the long stretch of blindingly white beach, which will host BRISC, and where turtles abound and are oftentimes spotted. Cher’s family through the leadership of her dad hopes to start preserving the turtles by buying eggs off the poachers’ hands. The eggs could then be brought to a government hatchery project which has now run short of funds. Therefore, there exist opportunities for co-operation between the government and BRISC for continuous protection of the turtles. At the long beach, the family is committed to keeping it as pristine as possible.

The main activity hub will take place at another beach and where the freshwater pool will be built.

And the third beach where cottages are also constructed expands into shallow tide pools teeming with marine life. Dave who is an early riser reported back with beautiful photographs of sea cucumbers, starfish and crustaceans of all sorts.

Behind the beaches lies the jungle. Here, it is proposed to demarcate nature trails for guests to discover the wide range of unique flora and fauna and also to develop an organic farm where the resort’s restaurant can source its fresh vegetables and also an opportunity for tasting or cooking activities for guests.

Pulau Tengah and beyond

If it were up to me, I would just want to stay on as there are so many nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered. The island is also the location where the original version of Survivor was shot for many years and I fancied tracking some bygone celebrity trails!  But there’s more to the island than just the beaches and forest. Cher’s family packed us up in a speedboat and brought us all over the cluster of islands surrounding Pulau Tengah where wonderful marine and terrestrial structures flourish. Reza noted the GPS points for various rich coral and fish systems, all just within fifteen minutes away from Pulau Tengah. I also noticed some caves and would have loved to explore them if we just had enough time!

Alas, we ran out of time for exploration, and it was time to leave the island. Exiting Mersing, I was shown where the resort hopes to build its own jetty, which would spare most visitors the trip to Mersing town.

It was one of those moments which I am truly grateful to be a part of, and I hope that my involvement continues. Despite my cynicism of most CSR projects that give token advert for so-called sustainable businesses, I felt the commitment of the owners of Batu Batu resort to be very genuine. They have incorporated environmental considerations right from the start, and have reached out to environmental experts when they feel like they were treading in unknown waters. Plus, they truly love having the turtles beaching on their sandy shores, and they have thought up exciting ways to protect them while working with local authorities and volunteers. I can’t wait for the resort and BRISC to officially open early next year and it’s a promise to be an outstanding responsible getaway!

And not to forget a big thanks to Dave Bakewell for his great photos used here. See his post about this same trip on his blog.

Dave Bakewell’s Birds and Rock Pools

I wanted to point you towards a blog post by Dave Bakewell about a long weekend spent at an evolving Batu Batu with ourselves and some other friends from Wild Asia last month. Dave is a Wild Asia Associate and “birder” / bird specialist / enthusiast / expert based in Malaysia and has taken some great photos of birds in-and-around Pulau Tengah. He’s also taken some very good pictures of the island’s tidal reef or rock pools (all taken from above water). Do take a look – Dave’s post has the actual names and descriptions of the birds so I’ll leave you to investigate further there.

I’ll post more in the not-too-distant future about the weekend and the birth of BRISC (Batu Batu Reef & Island Study Centre) – a very exciting project! Until then – enjoy some of these lovely photos (stolen from Dave’s blog – thanks Dave!).

And one last pic of the BRISC founding team leaving the Pulau Tengah (as Reza points out – shame that Dato CJL was taking the picture and didn’t get into the pic or we’d have had 3 generations of BB/BRISC).

From left to right: Rastam (one of our head-builders), Mei, Dave, Chew, Mathieu, Cher, boatman, Winelyn, Dada, Shiya and Reza.

Last Thursday on Pulau Tengah

I’ve been meaning to post some photos from last week’s site visit to the island with our architects, interior designers and engineers. We had blue skies and sunshine all day, the sea was mirror-flat, the waters crystal clear. We swapped in our wooden fisherman’s boat for a fibreglass fast one for the sake of time efficiency (15 minutes from Mersing jetty to Pulau Tengah!). The only downside was that I didn’t have a single moment to swim or snorkel all day – although we did get a chance to take a quick look at the coral through the water when we arrived as the tide was extremely high and the water extremely clear…

Nevertheless, the trip was very productive. We have now finalised the placement of our swimming pool, decided on the final layout for our villa bathrooms, worked out where to put our children’s playhouse, given our engineers the problem of designing an economically efficient yet ecological waste water solution (based on the lay of the land and the layout of the resort) and have – I think – finally settled on a design for our bar.

Our attempt to cultivate some indigenous island plants (as screeners) in our “nursery” is working well and I’m excited to have found that the builders have made some great home-made carts which can be used to move luggage and all sorts around the resort once we operate. They are now used for carting around construction materials but once that’s done, they can be spruced-up with some sandpaper and re-incarnated as luggage trolleys. PLUS they match the villas (as they appear to be made from off cuts from construction).

Here are some of the photos from the day.

We arrived at high tide (almost 3m) and were able to go all the way onto the beach on our boat...

...where we were greeted with some delicious home-grown coconuts

Transparent waters - perfect snorkelling weather...

Looking north-west from the restaurant. Prime views of the sun setting over mainland from this spot - imagine loungey sofas and a cold drink of choice in hand.

Follow this walkway and you get to the "long beach" or "pasir panjang" where you'll find our beach bar and island and reef centre.

YP (our architect) and Hashim (one of our contractors) discuss the best width for individual steps. I think they decided on 30cm.

Sham (ID) deliberates on where to position the bar without blocking the view.

The cart!

Nurturing the "green leafy plant". If anyone knows its proper name, let us know.

A home-made rainwater harvesting system at one of the builder's huts.

This sandy path heads through the coconut grove to the southern villas.

Views of Pulau Besar from the bar with mainland in the distance

Leaving the island at the end of the day

From beach bars to turtles – what’s it all about?

So, where do you start when you have a big blank page – or a big blank blog? And you’re new to blogging and dizzied by all the new words you’ve learnt over the last couple of days… Perhaps it’s best to provide some thoughts on why we’ve set this up in the first place.

There are two main reasons: Firstly – it is an excellent way for us to document our experiences from development through to the opening and running of the resort. A diary in words and pictures of our route – which we can look back on further down the line. There is so much to talk about and so many facets to this development. My musings from here on for the next year are likely to cover a wide range of topics from furniture and fabrics through to dive centre design, favourite beach bars to responsible management of waste water, vietnamese boat people to bamboo blinds, fair trade suppliers to staff uniforms, updates on construction to conversations with local fishermen, children’s activities to turtle and reef conservation.

The second reason for writing this blog is more experimental. I want to know whether our little hotel development can be influenced or directed by people out there via this blog. Can potential guests help us make decisions so that future experiences at our hotel are tailored to their preferences and needs? When we design our restaurant menus and meal payment structures, can the market provide us with their opinions so that we create something that we know people want and like? Can we stock our library with the right books by creating lists of top 10 books to read on a desert island and asking you to comment? Can we fill our iPods with music you want to hear when drinking a cold beer with sand between your toes? Can people more knowledgeable than ourselves recommend solar water heaters or provide suggestions on best boat designs for our use?

Until the next post, here are some pictures to keep you going.

Southern villas from the sea

The Long Beach - Pulau Tengah

Pulau Tengah from the air