Be close to nature
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 email@example.com
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.