Monday, 3 September 2012

Turtle Volunteer Programme: Sun, Sea and Heroes in a Half Shell!

Returning to active blogging:

I have been so busy with my various trips, activities and volunteer commitments for the past year that I ceased updating my blog, except for Letters to the Editor. I decided to return to active blogging because I missed blogging. I write for myself, and I had enjoyed recording things for posterity. I missed typing out my thoughts. opinions and feelings. I missed interacting with other bloggers. I am pleased that I have made the decision to return to active blogging.

Turtle Volunteer Programme, 1st - 2nd Sept 2012:

It has been a good year for volunteering and outdoor trips for me, and so I decided to organise a little volunteering trip of my own, which would be open to both Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and non-MNS members, to give everyone an opportunity to get acquainted with protected species and to give Mother Nature a hand.

After several months of writing official letters to the powers-that-be for permission and making arrangements for accommodation and our trip itinerary, we finally finalised the trip for the long Independence Weekend of 1st - 2nd September. We would be visiting and volunteering at the Turtle Information and Management Centre at Pantai Padang Kemunting, Pengkalan Balak, Masjid Tanah, Melaka. I had attended a volunteer programme there back in 2006 and found it to be a very enlightening, empowering and moving experience. The programme then was run by WWF Malaysia. They have since groomed the local youths to take over and run a grassroots organisation called Hawksbill EcoClub. Around 20 of my friends signed up (there were initially 30 registrants, but several pulled out due to family and other commitments) for the programme and so we met up at the Centre on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

A group photo for posterity outside the Centre.

The first activity on the itinerary is a compulsory briefing and video presentation on the threats faced by sea turtles and the work done by the Turtle Information and Management Centre. This is one of the slides on the conservation work done by the Dept of Fisheries and the Turtle Information and Management Centre. The turtle eggs are removed by licensed egg collectors within 2 hours of being laid and transferred to the hatchery and incubation rooms to prevent egg harvesting by profiteers. Turtles are part of our natural heritage and should be protected.

Hawksbill turtles feed on sea sponges (not the synthetic stuff you wash dishes with) and measure 70-90 cm on average. They can weigh between 35 and 75 kg.

Mohala, Mary and Keats viewing the exhibits and plaster models of turtles at the gallery within the Centre.

There were 5 turtles in a pond within the centre compound for rehabilitation and research purposes. They will be released into the sea once the biologists have determined that they are ready to go.

Rangamal and her nephews befriending a little hawksbill turtle. These turtles are used to the presence of humans and were not unduly stressed out.

Mohala, Sheela and Ilani are all smiles as they get ready to do the beach cleanup.

Ee Phin and Stefan hard at work collecting beach litter.

Starting them young: Rangamal teaches her nephews, Danush (5) and Karthik (11) about pollution and littering and gets them to assist in the beach cleanup.

Mary and Sheela sweep up the leaves while Nic (my best friend) pulls out a weed so that its roots will not end up depriving the turtle eggs of moisture.

The beach cleanup crew hard at work. Much of the litter consisted of pieces of polystyrene foam from the cooler boxes used by fishermen. I plan to write to the Dept of Fisheries to offer ideas on how to phase out the use of foam coolers due to the detrimental effect they have on wildlife. (Photo credits: Mary Chan)

I found a tube of toothpaste, while Aravind found a heart-shaped container! It's amazing what people leave on the beach! (Photo credits: Mary Chan)

We gathered at the hatchery after completing the beach cleanup to receive further instructions from Encik Mohammad.

We regrouped at the Centre after dinner for a briefing session before we started on our night walk and turtle observation activities.

Four hatchlings emerged from their shells around 10 p.m. They are always passive and disorientated right after hatching.

The four hatchlings were transported to a secluded area on the beach for release. This was the last photo I was able to take before we were instructed to switch all our flashlights, cameras and mobile phones off to avoid confusing the turtles as they make their way into the great big sea. I prayed hard for the little turtles' safety and well-being.

Another batch of turtle hatchlings emerge out of one of the nests. Stay strong and stay safe, baby turtles! See you in 15 - 20 years!

Pakcik Harun, one of the licensed egg collectors (seated) who we met during the night walk. He was so passionate and knowledgable! I hope he grooms others to follow in his footsteps. Props to Pakcik Harun!

Participants on the night walk to visit all the nesting sites. I was the sweeper as usual.

Party in our room after midnight. A bottle of gin, a bottle of wine and 3 bottles of vodka is a recipe for a MASSIVE HANGOVER and HEADACHE!

Time to give the turtles a bath to scrub all the algae and parasites off their carapace on Sunday morning. Stefan carries the turtle carefully while I receive it from inside the cleaning pool. (Photo credits: Mary Chan)

Gosh, I look so happy here. As Aravind said, I am always happy when I am giving something a bath.

Bathing turtles was more fun than we could have imagined!

Keats and Mohala's turtle is trying to run away to avoid being bathed!

Goodbye, Turtle Information and Management Centre, and see you again next year!

To find out more about the Turtle Information and Management Centre, contact them at the numbers and address provided below:

Pusat Penerangan dan Pengurusan Penyu
Turtle Information and Management Centre
Pantai Padang Kemunting,
Masjid Tanah,
Pengkalan Balak,
Phone/Fax: 06 384 6754
Facebook Profile:!/hawksbill.ecoclub.3


Cat-from-Sydney said...

Woohoo!!! Welcome back!!! come turtles also hate bathing? Don't they spend their entire life in water unlike felines? I hate baths too. har har har *evil laughs*

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thanks for the warm welcome, Kitties-from-Sydney and Mama! I think the turtles don't like their bath because it was with freshwater, see? They are sea turtles!

Pat said...

It's good to hear that you're back to blogging!!! You are such a good writer, your posts have always been a pleasure to read - and so I look forward to more :)

Such a wonderful time you guys had! And all for the good of the turtles!!! Good job!!

Do you know you have 'Please prove you're not a robot' activated? I am not a robot, but I find it hard to do these thingies sometimes, and I have to attempt it a couple of times before it will let me post my comments. It may prove too much for other 'less committed' visitors :(

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you for your support and kind words as always, dear Pat! I didn't even realise that my blog required word verification. I think it appeared by default. I have gone to settings and removed the word verification requirement. Thanks for the heads up!

Unknown said...

Welcome back, Ee Lynn!There's always great reading stuff on your blog.
Thanks to your initiative, we enjoyed the turtle outing and feel more empowered to spread the word:)

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you for the warm welcome and your participation in my little turtle programme, dear Keats! It was so good having you with us!