The Batu Batu Story + Breathing Life Back into our Blog
A little bit about the beginnings of Batu Batu and our direction for the years ahead
by Cher Chua-Lassalvy, Batu Batu's Co-Owner
With the new year came new resolutions – and this was one. A long long overdue post to breathe life back into our Batu Batu blog which was laid aside, somewhere in 2012 with the busy-ness of opening the island to our first guests.
It’s been a hands-on, pull together and muck-in time since then and we have learnt so much along the way. Today, we continue to work on operational improvements, making the resort smoother, better, renovating, making tweaks – looking for feedback and working to push the product further.
But what I really wanted to talk about today is a little bit about how and why Batu Batu came about and the journey we have embarked upon to try and create a more sustainable island and a more responsible resort. Below I copy in the Introduction I recently wrote for ISLAND LIFE – A Natural History of Pulau Tengah – our recently published coffee table book about this incredible island.
I hope, with the resurrection of this Batu Batu Blog, we can document our journey and tell our stories along the way. And for those of you who follow us and are interested in what we do, we invite you to connect with us, and throw your ideas, comments and thoughts into the mix.
Managing Director & Co-owner -- Batu Batu – Tengah Island
The Batu Batu adventure and the journey this enchanting island is taking us on is proof of nature’s ability to inspire.
Throughout my childhood we visited the beaches of Johor and snorkelled with big fish over colourful coral reefs. In 1994, my family took an interest in Pulau Tengah and we holidayed on this untouched paradise in its most raw form. After years of scheming and planning our hypothetical dream island resort, my father and I took the plunge in 2009 when the experimental pine forest which he had acquired in the 1970s was ready to harvest. This coincided with my husband and I getting married, and organising a post-wedding, quasi-camping trip on Pulau Tengah with family and our closest friends. It was then, despite intermittent electricity, sandflies, and the least glamorous of circumstances, that we decided to commit to the vision of bringing what would eventually become Batu Batu to life. Soon after, I left my City job in London to return home and embark on this incredible journey.
Having known and enjoyed Pulau Tengah in its natural glory, we wanted to share this secret gem with the rest of the world, while at the same time being careful not to spoil the unspoilt. The plan was therefore to build a low-density tourist destination which had as little impact on the “naturalness” of the island as possible.
From the outset, we put in place the basics to protect Pulau Tengah: we built water treatment plants to ensure we would not have to discharge dirty waters into the ocean; we established procedures to ensure that our boats would not need to throw anchor on the coral reefs or island’s seagrass beds; we remained vigilant to ensure that we would not allow our human presence to deter turtles from landing and laying their precious eggs.
When I moved onto the island with our first staff team in March 2012 and opened our doors to our first guests, we started observing, monitoring and recording the island’s natural rhythms. We set-up turtle conservation initiatives in 2013 and progressed to create Turtle Watch Camp in 2015. We had various scientists – ornithologists, botanists, marine biologists - stay with us over time, documenting, photographing and recording the natural life of the island. “Island Life” is an output of these early years and a culmination of this initial period of basic protections and observations – in my mind, a marker for the end of “Phase One”.
And Phase Two? I believe Phase Two stems from the key lesson learned in Phase One - that we not only have the ability and responsibility to protect the island (an ongoing endeavour and something which will I suspect be forever work-in-progress), but we also have the power and privilege to give back to nature. In fact, the coral and fish population around the island appear better today than they were before we opened Batu Batu. By protecting our reefs and letting them grow healthier day-by-day, by enforcing the no-take zone around the island, by protecting turtle eggs from poachers which allows thousands of endangered green turtles and critically endangered hawksbill turtles to hatch, by picking-up hundreds of bags of washed-up plastic from our beaches each year – in all of these ways, we can have a positive impact on the island and her surrounds.
So, in this day where half of the world’s coral reefs have been lost in the last 30 years and climate change is a horrifying reality, where we read in our newspapers that 90% of all coral will be extinct by 2050 and we wonder if our grandchildren will ever snorkel with Nemo, we are taking up the massive challenge of trying to create a sustainable island community model. A tourism business which tries its very best to minimise negative environmental impact while running conservation initiatives and changing the mindsets of our staff, our guests and the surrounding communities. And by embarking on this journey, we hope to show others that this environmentally sustainable model for a tourism business can be an economic positive in the hope that some will follow suit.
We are fortunate to have the support of guests whose genuine eagerness and interest in conservation and sustainability encourage us to continue pursuing our passion. In fact, my seven-year-old son’s favourite activity on the island is the weekly beach clean-up run by our Turtle Watch Camp.
We know that we have not picked the easiest option and we will undoubtedly face numerous struggles and frustrations along the way. Will we succeed? I don’t know, but I strongly believe it is important that we try - try to push boundaries and try to create change.
We have already started taking our first steps in Phase Two, defining our aims and exploring ways for us to best achieve our goals. In doing this we have heard the most incredible stories and met the most amazing and inspirational people: the farmers turning raw food waste into compost, creating the most fertile soils for growing organic fruit and vegetables, and the entrepreneurs and research teams bringing sustainable solutions to the forefront, saving precious water, reducing the use of fossil fuels. We look forward to recounting our experiences and encounters on our Batu Batu blog as we move along.
I sincerely hope that we can inspire others and together make the changes that will allow our children and grandchildren to happily explore and continue to be amazed by the shimmering coral reefs around these magical islands.
Wish us luck!