Be close to na­ture

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our­selves into four groups. Daphne and I headed for the right side of the beach and we waited un­til the turtle had stopped un­der the tree. Then she started to body pit, the term for the first stage of her dig­ging process. She started to dig a deep hole with her flip­pers throw­ing sand all over her. It was a spec­tac­u­lar and heart-warm­ing sight to be­hold.

“Oh no! We have to chase her to another part of the beach! She is de­stroy­ing an old nest there,” whis­pered Zu Dienle Tan, a vol­un­teer who is a Seatru in­tern.

Tan is a true blue turtle lover who had vol­un­teered to stay at this turtle sanc­tu­ary for three months. She pushed the heavy turtle with her leg, urg­ing it to move to the right. It grunted and ap­peared to be an­noyed and within min­utes, had moved slowly back down to the sea.

I was dis­ap­pointed but Tan as­sured me that it would re­turn the next night to lay eggs. It must have been a first-time mother and was trou­bled by the peo­ple around her.

Then I sat down to watch another turtle dig­ging fu­ri­ously in another hole. We had to keep very quiet while writ­ing down the times that the turtle landed, body pit­ted and cham­bered (the fi­nal stage of dig­ging). Af­ter that she was ready to lay her eggs. Mind you, a turtle can lay about 130 eggs one night.

Another turtle ap­peared and it seemed to like me. It kept fol­low­ing me as I at­tempted to walk slowly about. The turtle seemed happy and de­cided to dig just be­side me. It was ex­hil­a­rat­ing to watch two tur­tles lay­ing eggs, my very own two fe­male tur­tles to take care of. It was thrilling, but sadly, we were told that for ev­ery 100 baby tur­tles, only one will sur­vive to adult­hood.

That sec­ond turtle was an older and ex­pe­ri­enced mother who was sure that our beach was safe for her to nest. She laid her eggs af­ter dig­ging and rest­ing for one hour. I had to call Aziz Mann Mustaffa, the res­i­dent turtle care­taker, who mea­sured the turtle and stud­ied the metal tag on her flip­per. The num­bers on the tag re­vealed that she had laid her eggs there in 2006. We car­ried a book which had notes on all the tur­tles that had landed on this beach be­fore.

Mann (as he prefers to be called) in­serted a long stick into the hole to num­ber the nest. Af­ter he mea­sured the turtle, it be­gan to crawl down to re­turn to the sea. That night, 28 tur­tles landed to nest on the beach. All of us worked hard to write notes and mark the nests while catch­ing some rest in be­tween on our beach mats. I kept pa­trolling but by 3am, I fell asleep on the dark beach.

Sharks eat tur­tles

Next morn­ing more work was in store. We had to mark the new nests and help to check the old ones.

There were about 200 nests on the beach. We dug up the old nests to pro­tect the eggs and hatch­lings from preda­tors but were dis­mayed to find small ghost and her­mit crabs plus red ants at­tack­ing some hatch­lings in the nest.

Then I saw a dead hatch­ling with a hole in its chest. Sadly, it had been bit­ten by a rat. Then there were two tiny hatch­lings with three flip­pers. Mann said that th­ese dis­abled crea­tures can still grow into adult moth­ers and re­turn to lay eggs on that beach. That was in­spir­ing news. It was won­der­ful to find the lovely hatch­lings and we kept them in a tray. Later in the evening we re­leased them into the sea.

To our horror, we saw baby sharks wait­ing in the wa­ter to eat the hatch­lings – very few sur­vive to be adults. Some­one thought of catch­ing the baby sharks, but it is il­le­gal to catch any fish in the Redang ma­rine park.

One af­ter­noon a loud shriek was heard, for some­one had dis­cov­ered a green snake in our room.

“It’s not ven­omous and harm­less!” shouted Mann, the care­taker.

The snake was caught gen­tly and re­leased into the for­est later. More ex­cite­ment was in store later that evening as a colour­ful man- grove snake was seen in the rub­bish bin. It chased away two macaque mon­keys nearby. We were told it was a res­i­dent snake which came ev­ery night look­ing for din­ner. Large ea­gles soared in the sky and but­ter­flies in myr­iad colours danced in and out of the trees nearby.

Apart from en­gag­ing in turtle con­ser­va­tion ac­tiv­i­ties, vol­un­teers can also swim and snorkel in the crys­tal clear sea. Some also hiked to Turtle Rock (a nat­u­ral for­ma­tion) and vis­ited a nat­u­ral prawn spa. The lat­ter had us sit­ting down and in­sert­ing our feet into the cool, sparkling wa­ter of a rock pool and within min­utes lit­tle prawns be­gan nib­bling on our feet hun­grily. The sen­sa­tion was tick­lish yet re­lax­ing. So one does not have to pay RM40 per hour to visit a fish spa in a city shop­ping cen­tre be­cause it’s free here!

It is fas­ci­nat­ing to know that more than 3,000 vol­un­teers have par­tic­i­pated in this pro­gramme to save tur­tles. Peo­ple can gain the rare priv­i­lege of be­ing close to na­ture while help­ing to con­duct re­search and ac­tively sav­ing wild tur­tles from ex­tinc­tion. Would you like to write about your adventures? Or want to share some tips on in­ter­est­ing out­door ac­tiv­i­ties, safety, equip­ment or eco-friendly prac­tices? Please write in to our out­doors co­or­di­na­tor, an­drew Sia, at star2@thes­

The mag­nif­i­cent Leatherback tur­tles which were com­mon 20 years ago have be­come ef­fec­tively ex­tinct in Tereng­ganu now. Many peo­ple are still pur­chas­ing turtle eggs (of other species) in the lo­cal mar­kets and con­sum­ing them. Thank­fully there are many other na­ture lovers who trea­sure th­ese threat­ened tur­tles.

All in all, vol­un­teer­ing at the Seatru pro­gram at Cha­gar Hu­tang in Redang is­land is re­ward­ing for it nur­tures love and com­pas­sion to­wards na­ture’s won­ders amid our ma­te­ri­al­is­tic world.

For me, help­ing to save th­ese adorable crea­tures was a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence, to be kept in a cor­ner of my heart al­ways.

Pro­tec­tive cover: a green turtle swish­ing sand over her freshly laid eggs at Cha­gar Hu­tang on redang is­land.

File pic­ture of turtle hatch­lings at Seatru res­cued from an at­tack by an army of ants.

a Seatru staff mem­ber mea­sur­ing a turtle that has come to nest at the Cha­gar Hu­tang turtle sanc­tu­ary.

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