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Monday, May 11, 2009

Tioman & Turtles - My Rite of Passage

The resort looks so amazing during this time of the year... Everything around us looks so alive. What do we do without sunshine...
The sea is like an aquarium, the water looks like gentle waves made from sparkling turquiose diamonds. The water temperature is just right too for skin that's ready to sizzle in the sun.

I've always enjoyed the resort even if it's only for one night sometimes. Feels wonderful to call this HOME.

This month, something really special took place. My dream finally came true. A dream I've had since I could remember, more like a 'if only' than a 'I wish' kinda wish, but never ever expected it to really really happen. A sea turtle project I can call my own!

This wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for my really good friend, Rowena. She and her husband Tengku Intan of the Pahang royal family had initiated this great move on the turtle sanctuary and had decided to do this on their piece of paradise, which is named after him. Fantastic effort.

We've been looking forward to finally getting the land cleaned up (majorly), have the hatchery built and start working! They had then planned to invite the Sultan Of Pahang to officiate the opening of TAT at Teluk Sri Intan on 14 May 2009, in conjunction with Tioman's yearly Eco-Challenge that kick-started on the same day. The Sultan of Pahang also became the patron of the project. His Majesty has made a substantial donation to the project which will benefit the project substantially.

This great turtle project now covers the whole of Tioman (not just one beach as before - Juara ) with the first designated sanctuary at Teluk Sri Intan just 2km from JapaMala. A hatchery has been built, collection of turtle eggs has started and JapaMala is now a partner of TAT with licence to assist in all sea turtle conservation efforts on the island.

As all 12 of us were ready for dessert at the pier on the night of May8, a phone call came from the keepers that a turtle has landed. CTA 9.45pm. It was an extremely beautiful night, the perfect full moon cast light on the entire coast. We had no trouble seeing even without a torch. Perfect, because no torches are allowed on any turtle beach. We all hopped onboard our speedboat and headed out to Teluk Sri Intan, a stunning stretch of less than a km of white-sand beach. Volunteer quarters, info center, and a lab have yet to be developed for the near future. But for now, this amazing spot is an island unto itself.

We then hopped into a buggy and were on our way to the sanctuary from the jetty. Some working folks were already there, whispered to us with a finger pointing to the 'mother' that has dug a pit and ready to lay her eggs.

This could take up to 4 hours sometimes but I was ready to camp out there all night - although i wasn't exactly dressed for turtle work, yeah, i was in this long sun dress. But was ready to go on all fours nonetheless, to dig holes in the sand if needed.

And so I did really, end up digging, in this dress :D Well, that's what volunteers do! The Green Turtle, which looked like an Olive Ridley to me because of its olive-shaped shell, laid 96 eggs. It was unfortunate that we didn't tag her....nor did we have a tape to measure her. I assume she must be about 1m in length and noticed too that she had no barnicles at all on her shell or flippers. Perhaps a young mother, this one.
Oh I felt so right at home at this sanctuary helping the pakcik dig 2 more holes in the hatchery to place the eggs - 30 in each I was instructed. This is something I had missed so terribly since my last visit to Ma D'aerah. I remembered what to do, how to do it... as if I had just done it yesterday. I can do this all season!

Me at MaD'areah WWF Sea Turtle Sanctuary in Kemaman years ago...

More eggs hatched the same night, so green babies were released the next morning by His Majesty during the ceremony.
The rest were then released that same evening by Tengku Intan (in snazzy red crocs), Datin Rowena (lady at front), Tengku Sharul (next to Rowena with hand in turtle box) and Tengku Qamarina (standing next to her dad looking on). And Kelly, in the next pic with Shahrul and Qamarina.

Immediately, I felt a desperate need to develop this sanctuary. We need people here to run it. We need specialists, scientists, we need volunteers! The only person who came to mind was my dear friend, CEO of WWF, Dino.

I'm gonna call him when I get back to KL.

1 comment:

Riena said...

I'm genuinely interested with this turtle project, is there by any chance I can join you for your next trip, particularly for this project?
I've always wanted to do my bits to save our turtles. Hope you can include me.

Oh I must put a mention that I'm avid reader of your blog and I look up to your friendship with Ning. You're one of the rarest environmentalists in the country and what you fought for deserve credits.

Hope to hear from you.