Turtles have been on earth for over 200 million years, outliving the dinosaurs. Columbus once described sailing through oceans full of turtles, bouncing off the boat and filling the beaches. Unfortunately, the seven sea turtle species of our planet are all facing serious population declines and are nearing extinction. Although some certain populations seem to be stabilising, in general sea turtles are in trouble.
Sea turtles worldwide face a myriad of conservation threats. Over-harvesting for their meat and eggs, accidental capture from fisheries, habitat degradation through plastic pollution and coastal development and perhaps most worrying is the battle against climate change, making turtle populations highly feminised and increasing hatchling mortality.
When species are facing such dire outlooks it is easy to get depressed and loose hope for the survival of these majestic creatures. However, this is what we cannot afford to do. It is only through hope and the work of dedicated conservationists that we can have a chance of saving the sea turtles. Conservation organisations around the world are working hard to do what they can to protect sea turtle populations. One of these amazing organisations is Lang Tengah Turtle Watch in Malaysia.
I am currently working as an intern with this organisation helping their dedicated team of conservationists work hard to protect Malaysia’s sea turtle populations. This ambitious project was started by founder Hayati Mokhtar in 2013. After visiting her land that surrounds Turtle Bay on Pulau Lang Tengah, Hayati realised that something must be done in order to preserve this beautiful ecosystem and in turn the sea turtles that call it home. The organisation currently has both an Island and mainland project, this first article will explore the island project.
Lang Tengah – ‘The Eagle in the Middle’ – is a small tropical island off the North-East coast of Peninsular Malaysia, nestled between the more well-known islands of Perhentian and Redang. The history of the island is unknown apart from the fact fisherman used to use it as a refuge to hide from the brunt of the monsoon. What is known is that the island is full of life, the forests are full of small skinks and geckos with huge monitor lizards patrolling the beaches. However, the real jewel of the island is its underwater paradise that fringes the coast. With an astounding variety of corals and abundance of colourful fish, it is easy to see why the resident sharks love this place.
Of course the main attractions are the visiting turtles that come to the island to lay their eggs, and this is why the project is here. We are based on the sandy beach best known as Turtle Bay. It lies on the very southern tip of the island, and within the coastal vegetation behind the beach lies the Turtle Watch jungle camp, straight out of Robinson Crusoe novel.
The main focus of the project is the monitoring of turtle landings and protecting their eggs from poachers. The key to safeguarding the nesting population of turtles – predominantly Green turtles, but also Hawksbill- on Lang Tengah relies on constant and continued presence on the island, acting as a deterrent to egg poachers. Living 24 hours a day in the camp, regular patrols take place on the nesting beaches at night, relocating any nests laid on the other beaches back to the safety of turtle bay.
This year the project is expanding by conducting scientific surveys of the coral reef ecosystems. Run by the amazing Seb and KL, the project wants to gather a good understanding of the fish, coral and invertebrate populations that call the island home. This information will give a good indication of the health of the reef, and therefore direct conservation efforts. As well as this research the project has just deployed its own coral nursery, to be used to replant and propagate coral fragments damaged in the monsoon. Providing a supply of healthy coral’s to help re-stock the reef system.
Life on the island is idyllic, sleeping just behind the beach in the jungle, drinking tea in the evening gazing out for shooting stars and waking up with a snorkel to catch the evenings predators still scanning the reefs. It’s not all relaxing though, the project is there to conduct serious studies. Duties involve nightly beach patrols looking for nesting turtles, monitoring of nests, coral and fish abundance and diversity surveys, coral propagation and blacktip reef shark monitoring.
The work the island project is doing is vital. By observing turtle nests in natural conditions we can get a better understand of how we can best manage the safety of the species. The expansion of surveys into the water will help gain a better idea of the health of the reef in order to steer conservation efforts and legislation's.
This project is amazing, run by a young team of passionate conservationists along with groups of research assistants and interns. However, anyone can get involved. In fact volunteers are an essential part of the operation. If you are looking for a chance to taste the island life and to help do some vital conservation work then anyone can volunteer to help the programme. Visit the website for more details:
The project and others like it are vital for the continued survival of sea turtles. Under huge pressure from the ever growing human populations, it is our duty to help the species. Every egg that can be saved, raised into a baby turtle and put back into the ocean counts. This work is making a difference, and should be celebrated. But we must not forget that humans are the ones causing these species to suffer, we must all educate ourselves and others on what we are doing to our planet, and what we can do to help it.