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Monday October 14, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Monday October 14, 2013 MYT 7:55:46 AM
by azhariah kamin
Precious: Baby turtles scrambling in their enclosure at the Padang Kemunting Sea Turtle Sanctuary in Malacca. One of the sanctuary’s main aims is to stop poachers from stealing freshly laid turtle eggs.
A group of dedicated young volunteers is protecting the hawksbill as best as they can, and this augurs well for the future of the reptile.
THEY come from different backgrounds, yet they have something in common: the desire to learn more about turtle conservation and protecting the environment.
One thing they admitted, though, was that before joining as volunteers at the Hawksbill Eco-Club, they knew little about turtle conservation. After they became part of the club, they learnt a whole lot more, and in the process, have fallen in love with their job.
Living along the coastline wasn’t something new for them. “Most of us were born and grew up here, so we already knew about turtles and marine life. However, it was only after we joined the club that we began learning much more,” said club chairman Nor Amri Zul, 26, in an interview with Star2 at the sanctuary earlier this year.
For the uninitiated, the Hawksbill Eco-Club was set up by a group of 12 youngsters (as full-time volunteers) who help man the Padang Kemunting Sea Turtle Sanctuary on a daily basis to create awareness and educate the public – particularly fishermen, chalet operators, schoolchildren and villagers– on the importance of protecting hawksbill turtles.
The Hawksbill Eco-Club is located at the Padang Kemunting Hawksbill Turtle Conservation and Information Centre in Pengkalan Balak, Masjid Tanah, Malacca.
Since the club’s inception in November 2011, its members have been busy with their daily routines at the centre and undergoing occasional training by WWF, assisted by the Fisheries Department, to equip them with all the necessary skills to become full-fledged, licensed eco-tourism guides. Indeed, one of the club’s aims is to empower the local community to benefit from local eco-tourism.
According to Nor Amri, one of the main activities of the club is assisting the sanctuary through its patrolling teams. During the peak nesting season from April to September, teams – comprising WWF-Malaysia’s staff members, assistants, interns and volunteers – monitor key nesting beaches from sunset to sunrise, sometimes covering distances of almost 40km. Amri himself joins in the patrolling every day.
“Our main aims are to stop poachers from stealing freshly laid eggs, and to transfer these new eggs into a protected hatchery, with the help of the Fisheries Department and licensed egg collectors. The patrolling teams cover beaches at Kem Terendak Tanjung Bidara, Padang Kemunting, Pasir Gembur, Pulau Upeh and Balik Batu,” added the passionate turtle lover.
Amri also said that at the sanctuary, they place satellite transmitters on selected turtles to monitor their movements, and so help scientists understand the migration patterns of the turtles. Such data is useful in identifying the potential threats to turtles, and helping conservationists to come up with ways to protect these reptiles. These turtles often swim over long distances and return to Malacca’s beaches to nest.
The Padang Kemunting beach is important as it houses the sole hatchery in Malacca. The club, monitored by the Fisheries Department, regulates egg collection by the local community by giving out a restricted number of licences. All eggs collected are required to be sold to the Department for incubation and are transported to this hatchery for incubation.
The eggs take 45 to 65 days to hatch, and the hatching season is from March to September. During these months, the sanctuary allows a limited number of tourists to release the hatchlings into the sea, under the guidance of WWF personnel.
Unfortunately, egg poaching along the beach is prevalent, according to Amri. The villagers’ houses are a stone’s throw away from the nesting beach, making it easily accessible. If that is not enough, this beach is also a popular recreational spot and is lined with endless rows of chalets.
“Lighting, human presence and tourist activity on the beach at night are big concerns in this area,” explained Amri.
But there is reason for some optimism as, in recent months, a chalet operator has indicated interest in changing its operations and practices. In return, the benefit could be additional revenue from guided turtle-watching activities and hatchling releases. Padang Kemunting surely has the potential to be a turtle-friendly belt where tourism is practised in a responsible manner to sustain the natural heritage within.
For 22-year-old Nur Atirah Abd Shukor, being a member of the club has been an eye-opening experience for her.
“Being born here, I knew about the the turtles but it was a friend’s idea that we should join the club. And I said yes immediately because I always wanted to do something different. And I have been enjoying my time here (at the sanctuary).
“There’s no one specific task for us to do at the club,” said Atirah, who is also the club’s treasurer. “On a daily basis, we just do things together, like manning the souvenir counter, cleaning the turtle pond, do night patrolling to watch the turtles come ashore, be in charge of the exhibition centre, and talking to visitors and tourists who come to the club to learn more about hawksbill turtles.”
She added that the club’s funding comes mainly from the sale of souvenirs and tour packages that include sighting the nesting turtles and witnessing the hatchlings’ release; 35% of the revenue is channelled into a special fund for hawksbill conservation.
“It has been a really exciting experience for me, meeting people from all walks of life and telling them what we do here at the club in protecting our treasure – the hawksbill turtles,” said Atirah.
Mohamad Hashim, a staff member of the Fisheries Department, also volunteers at the club. He deals mainly with corporate bodies and members of the public who want to participate in the club’s activities.
Mohamad said that when he first joined the department in the late-1990s, he was not really aware of turtles and their conservation.
However, as his new job started to grow on him, Mohamad, 44, began to learn about turtles and conservation efforts. He is now so involved that he has roped in his wife to be a part-time volunteer at the sanctuary.
> The Padang Kemunting Sea Turtle Sanctuary is open daily from 10am to 4pm, except on Mondays and public holidays. Admission is free.
Favourite nesting place
Volunteers play a big role
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Lifestyle, Hawksbill Eco Club, Volunteers, Environment Day, Padang Kemunting Sea Turtle Sanctuary
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