Saturday January 10, 2004

Langkawi’s underwater wonder

Pictures by K.T. GOH

SITUATED in Kedah's legendary island of Langkawi, the Underwater World Langkawi is a rich treasure trove of marine life and a fascinating window on the aquatic world.
Boasting South-East Asia’s largest collection of aquatic life, the Underwater World is home to over 5,000 varieties of fish and other animals. Located at the popular Pantai Cenang beach, this major draw features more than 100 tanks of different sizes.
Catch the world's biggest freshwater fish, the Arapaima.

This marine showcase includes a freshwater section, a seashell display, a hexagon fish tank, an underwater tunnel, a koi pond, a mini reptile section and an invertebrate exhibit. In addition, there is a coral reef display and a venomous creatures section.
The highlight is a giant tank housing large species such as sharks, stingrays, groupers, snappers and green turtles. A 15m underwater tunnel runs through this tank and enables visitors to enjoy the feeling of being with the fish without getting wet!
The coral reef section, on the other hand, is a veritable underwater garden with striking colours and special lighting, while the fossils and shells exhibits add another dimension to the whole experience.
At Chameleon Land, visitors usually amuse themselves by trying to spot the seven resident lizards in their leafy environment. See just how sharp-eyed you are. Another crowd-puller is the tank displaying two leafy sea dragons from Australia.
Aquarium manager Khoo Teng Chye says sea dragons are shy and sensitive creatures belonging to the sea horse family. “Their leaf-like bodies provide a defence-mechanism to camouflage them from their enemies. The ideal temperature for them is 16°C, and any changes to this can be fatal,” he explains.
Khoo also says they screen a 10-minute documentary of the animal in its natural habitat on a TV set nearby to feed visitors information.
At the hexagon tank, visitors can feast their eyes on the schools of colourful marine fish swimming in synchrony. It is some coordination. Also, try not to miss the world’s biggest freshwater fish, the Arapaima, and other interesting attractions like the monkey lizards, pot-bellied sea horses, porcupine fish, nurse sharks and tomato frogs.
There are also smaller tanks which look like television sets screening live underwater scenes. Cool!
The 3,038sq m Underwater World was opened on Aug 26, 1995 by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Underwater World general manager Tanzil Md Noor says the aquarium was built to educate and raise awareness on the importance of conserving aquatic flora and fauna.
20 Rockhopper penguins from South Africa will be part of the added attractions in the expansion project.
“Our latest residents are 20 Rockhopper penguins from Nightingale Island, some 2,000km west of South Africa. The birds, costing RM26,600 each, excluding insurance and shipping charges, will be part of the coming attractions under our RM30mil expansion project which includes the sub-Antarctic, temperate and tropical rainforest ecosystems,” he says.
A brainchild of Tun Dr Mahathir, the project is currently 30% completed and is scheduled to be ready by June next year. Tanzil says the sub-Antarctic section will feature the Rockhopper penguins while the temperate section will house the Blackfoot penguins and seals.
“At the rainforest section, visitors can view the Arapaima, primates and electric eels,” he adds.
There will also be a special museum to showcase the Malaysian expeditions to Antarctica, including the one led by Tun Dr Mahathir last February. Langkawi Underwater World will be the first aquarium in South-East Asia to be equipped with a 3D theatre facility with a 200-seating capacity. By day, audiences will be taken to the world of penguins via 15-minute documentary films; by night, to the world of make-believe, courtesy of blockbuster movies.
Sidewalk cafés and fast-food outlets will also be set up ala Kuala Lumpur’s Bintang Walk. These will complement the existing food outlet, duty-free shopping arcade and shop selling dried seafood, as the Underwater World Langkawi prepares to host visitors into the night.

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"