In Sabah, some of the Iranun ethnic villagers live in coastal areas near mangrove forests with a diverse range of natural resources such as marsh clams (Geloina expansa). Marsh clam is a common food source for coastal people. Marsh Clams (Geloina expansa) is a raw meal that Iranun people use in a variety of cuisines. The Marsh clams also called ‘Getik’ in the Iranun language is a species of bivalve mollusk found locally, mostly in the back-bay areas, including the Caloosahatchee estuary and mangrove habitats. Iron, zinc, and copper are all abundant in marsh clam micronutrients. The traditional knowledge believes the marsh clam mantle organ which is higher in iron concentration can heal blood clotting and bruises are the topical application of marsh clam mantle organs onto the wound areas. Many people in the Iranun community think that marsh clam soup can assist increase the amount of milk produced by nursing mothers (D.D. M. Hamdan et. Al, 2020). Figure 1 shows the activity of digging marsh clam at low tide at Kampung Rampayan Ulu, Kota Belud Sabah.
Digging marsh clam at Kg. Rampayan Ulu, Kota Belud Sabah
Marsh clam also has numerous health benefits, including the ability to prevent anemia, as well as being a good source of protein and antioxidants. Bivalves, such as Marsh clam, are high in iron and vitamin B12, two minerals that help prevent anemia. A serving of clams can
help you meet your daily vitamin B12 and iron needs. An adequate supply of essential minerals helps to prevent illnesses like iron deficiency anemia. Even though shellfish are essential human foods, but they are exposed to contaminants in polluted seas. Toxicologists often associate shellfish as a key vector for harmful metal trace elements and persistent organic pollutants. Marsh clams were used to monitor the level of trace
metals in aquatic systems in key places such as industrial areas due to their capacity to filter water. The estimation of the health risk index (HRI) can be done by collecting samples of bivalve including marsh clam which later can analyze using Inductively Couples Plasma-Optical Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-OES). Figure 2 shows the freshly harvested marsh clams collected from the back bay area at Kampung Nanamun, Kota Belud Sabah. A study by a student in UMS has mentioned that the marsh clams at Kampung Rampayan Ulu are safe to consume after several analyses performed by their research team.
Marsh Clam (Geloina Expansa) collected at Kg. Nanamun, Kota Belud
The freshly harvested marsh clams can be placed on ice or in the refrigerator or freezer soon as recommended by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Otherwise, wrap it tightly in plastic foil or moisture-proof paper or open and soak marsh clam meat into water and store in the freezer. Figure 3 shows the marsh clams meat soaked in water before being placed inside the freezer. The villagers usually sell the marsh clams per packet range between 35-40 clams per packet for RM 10.00 or a small packet worth only RM 5.00.
Marsh Clam soaked in water and packed before stored in the freezer
The “gegetik” is a tool used to find and digging marsh clams. When the tide is flat low, we can find the marsh clam by looking at the bubble or tiny holes 1-2 cm in length which is the size depends on the marsh clam size. At high tide, there is also a bubble with a tiny hole to find them where we have the option to use our feet to feels something hard deep inside the mud. Usually, 1 ft of mud in depth during low tide. Once marsh clams were spotted, the gegetik tools were used to lift them upwards. The rake also can be used to dig and harvest multiple marsh clams. To get started, wade aware of any holes or rocks underfoot. Figure 4 shows the gegetik tools used by Iranun people in Kampung Rampayan Ulu to find and dig the Marsh Clams.
The gegetik tools
The Department of Fisheries Sabah assists the villagers here in Kampung Rampayan Ulu, Kota Belud Sabah with fences equipment, and marsh clam seeds to start clam farming at their back home area. They also taught the villagers to grow the small size of clams inside the fenced area up to sufficient size, only medium and large size marsh clam picked for their consumption and the rest selling them to Tamu (weekend market) or nearby customers. Figure 4 shows the clams farm at Kampung Rampayan Ulu, Kota Belud.
Marsh clam farm in Kampung Rampayan Ulu, Kota Belud
After harvesting or collecting the marsh clam, the clamshell will be cleaned by washing and brushing the exterior shell. Then let the marsh clams sit for an hour outside at room temperature to ease the opening of the clamshell. The marsh clam usually will release mud from the inner shell. The small opening of the clamshell will make us easy to open the clamshell by using a sharp knife. Clams are at their best to consume if they are no more than four days old.
Marsh clam broth and stir-fry with selected vegetables are two methods to prepare the Marsh Clam. The marsh clam broth was recommended to consume by the nursing mother to increase milk production. Stir fry the marsh clam with copra (niug), turmeric (kalawag), garlic (bawang putih), shallot (bawang merah), and chili (luya) in Iranun cooking style called “Piaren” or “masak ampap”. The other cooking style including marsh clam stir fry with galangal (lengkuas), marsh clam stir fry with unripe saba banana (saging), marsh clams stir fry with bamboo sprout (dabung). The galangal, bamboo sprout, and unripe saba banana need to place in a saucepan or wok, cover with water and simmer until tender. This procedure is important to remove the hydrocyanic acid that gives bamboo sprout a bitter taste and may lead to food poisoning. Figure 6 shows the marsh clam cooked in a traditional recipe of Iranun people called “Piaren”.
Marsh clam cooked in Iranun style “Piaren”
The abundance of unused marsh clams’ shells can be converted into quicklime. Burning the marsh clams shell converts the shells into a material called quicklime (calcium oxide). When the calcium oxide is added with water, thereby creating a product called limepaste (kapur sirih or apug in Iranun language) or slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) which is high in calcium. Some of Iranun’s elderly mbama’ or chewing betel quid which is a mixture of limepaste (apug), tobacco (laget), and grounded or sliced betel nut (mama’an) wrapped up in a package with betel leaf (namat) as shown in Figure 7. A regular mbama’ or betel quid chewers have red-stained lips and teeth. They rubbed a honey wax (taru) in their mouth before chewing betel quid as to reduce burning effect. Not only here in Sabah, but the mbama’ also has been practiced by Asian people including Indonesia, Taiwan, and Cambodia.
The betel quid (lepet a mama’an) ingredients
(Photo source: https://www.theborneopost.com/2015/07/26/a-surviving-tradition/)
The marsh clams not only benefit the Iranun people for healthy natural food resources but also provide the local community with a variety of ecosystem services. Clams play an important role in cycling the nutrients, including nitrogen (N). They feed on natural-occurring phytoplankton which use to dissolve inorganic nitrogen available in the water. They release nitrogenous waste (urine) that can be used by phytoplankton as a source of nitrogen. In addition, some of the nitrogen filtered from the water by calms is deposited to the sediment as feces. These biodeposits are decomposed by bacteria, which transform the nitrogen into a variety of other forms, including ammonium (NH4+), nitrate (NO3), and nitrogen gas (N2). The abundance of clams-shell converted into slaked lime (apug) for a mixture of betel quid (lepet a mama’an) was not recommended to be practiced because the betel nut itself and betel quid (lepet a mama’an) were classified by International Agency for Research Cancer (IARC) as Group 1 human carcinogen that may lead to oral cancer. Mbama’ without tobacco can cause oral cancer and cancer of the liver, meanwhile, mbama’ with tobacco causes cancer of the pharynx and the esophagus. The use of taru (honey wax) in mouth before mbama’ in reducing the risk of cancer still unknown. The clam farms activity as practiced by villagers in Kampung Rampayan Ulu will not only benefit the growers but also provide an important contribution to coastal eco-systems services for the sustainability of mangrove forest.