On a Sunday morning, 26th October 2014, the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) lead a group of people headed out onto the sandflats of Bako-Buntal Bay, with Puan Missi and her two lovely daughters.
Ambal is a bivalve, from the family Bivalvia. Bivalves are shelled animals, including the clams, cockles, mussels and oysters. They are recognisable by having two symmetrical hard shells, connected by a hinge of cartilage. They are found mostly in the intertidal zone of the sea, but some are also found in freshwater.
Our tidal flats from Lundu, Salak, Buntal and Asajaya are the main areas where ambal is collected to supply our seafood restaurants. This fishery is an old practise along Sarawak’s coasts, and the fisherfolk of our coastal villages have a long tradition of collecting ambal.
Ambal collecting is seasonal, mainly between October and March each year, coinciding with our landas, or monsoon, season. Interestingly, this is also the ambal’s resting period. This bivalve breeds between April and September each year, then goes into a period of rest. Scientists call this period the “spent” period. We don’t know if this is coincidence, but it works out well – ambal is collected when the animals have stopped spawning, and are growing.
There are three known species of ambal along Sarawak’s coasts, but only one is found in Bako-Buntal bay. Its scientific name is Solen regularis. Ambal collecting is done primarily by womenfolk, and they have a curious technique to spot and catch ambal. They keep their traditional practise secret, and so shall we.
Each individual ambal grows where its juvenile form lands in the sand, and will live in that exact spot for the rest of its life. We were thrilled to see that ambal can move, and move really fast. Drop one on the sand, and it can disappear within seconds. They have a muscular foot that can take in water, expand, and expel water with force, thus propelling them across the surface, and right down into the sand.
Spending the morning under the gaze of the majestic Gunung Santubong was a most refreshing experience. It was a real joy walking across the Sg. Buntal at low tide, and watching the hundreds of migratory shorebirds and terns flying about. Learning how the razor clam lives, is caught and how it contributes to the livelihood of so many villagers, was a meaningful experience for all. Until that day, ambal was just a seafood dish!
In the words of one “the next time I order ambal in a restaurant, I will remember Puan Missi and her daughters, the people who go out and earn a difficult living, in a beautiful place. I also realise that nature nourishes us, and we need to appreciate this first, before we will care for such beautiful and important places like the Santubong peninsula”.
This trip was held under the Santubong Nature Festival 2014, an initiative of the Malaysian Nature Society to bring greater awareness amongst all of the values of Santubong, and the urgent need to use it wisely. Santubong is Sarawak’s heritage, and worth keeping as is.
The Santubong Nature Festival is held on 8th and 9th November, at Permai Rainforest Resort. Come join in the many nature activities organised by agencies and organisations from all over Sarawak