I chose to organise a volunteer programme for the Green Living Special Interest Group on 28th September 2013 at the Turtle Conservation and Information Centre operated by the Department of Fisheries in Pantai Pengkalan Balak, Masjid Tanah, Melaka as it does not receive as much volunteer help and positive publicity as some of the other turtle sanctuaries and hatcheries in Malaysia.
After overcoming initial setbacks related to chalet reservations and camping permissions, I decided to proceed with the activity as a day trip for which participants had the choice of making their own transport and accommodation arrangements. I was relieved and grateful that all the participants who registered for the programme were down with it. My old friend Shobie even signed up for the programme with her 9-year-old daughter Iksha and we booked rooms in the same hotel in Melaka Town. Everyone was really accommodating and understanding about the changes to the Programme.
30 MNS members registered for the programme to learn more about turtle conservation issues in Malaysia and help with the upkeep of the Centre. Participants also made a financial contribution of RM25 each, which would be used by the Centre in its turtle egg buyback programme.
The first order of the day after the screening of a short video and educational slideshow was to clean the manmade turtle pond within the compound of the Centre, which held 3 hawksbill turtles and a green turtle for research and rehabilitation purposes. The turtles would be released into the sea once determined fit for release by the marine biologists.
The pond was filled with algae as it was filled with filtered seawater (which turns murky at a faster rate than freshwater), and the turtles had dirt and algae on their carapace due to the stagnant water. The volunteers got down to work scrubbing the tiles with steel wool and scouring pads.
Here I am, moving one of the turtles to a safer part of the pond so that we could scrub the tiles in that area.
"Are you sure this turtle is okay? He seems a bit too lethargic!" Shobie expressed her concern. It's okay, Shobs, the turtle is just stressed out. We just need to work fast to clean the pond so it can be refilled with water.
Aravind scrubbed dirt and algae off the tiles with a scouring pad. The little turtle was not impressed by his efforts, though.
When this was completed, the turtles also received a bath. The volunteers were very careful not to hurt the turtles or unduly stress them out.
(Photo credits: Steven Lim)
Zachary carefully cleaning algae off a turtle's carapace and bony head plates using a small piece of sandpaper that he had been given by the Centre staff.
Once the pond and turtles were sufficiently clean, filtered seawater was pumped into the pond. The look of relief on the turtles' faces was palpable. "Yay, no more feet in our pond!" the turtles seemed to say.
The obligatory couple photo. We just are really grateful for everyone's help. The turtle pond was sparkling clean within half an hour and even the turtles looked happier.
After a short break, the volunteers proceeded to carry out a beach cleanup, which saw boxes and bags of rubbish being removed from the beach in front of the Centre. It was clear from the rubbish collected that the waste came from the local residents, food stalls and picnickers. It is hoped that more rubbish receptacles are put up around the beach to encourage people to dispose of their rubbish properly, and measures are taken to enforce this.
Looi Fang was a veritable superwoman out there during the beach cleanup, collecting 3 times more rubbish than anyone else.
Looi Fang, Moi Kien and I removing the box and bags of rubbish that we had collected.
(Photo credits: Steven Lim)
We regrouped at the Centre to help the staff clean up the turtle hatchery where the nests are. The volunteers used rakes and brooms to sweep up dry leaves and litter.
Iksha launched herself into sweeping up the dry leaves with a rake taller than she is. The parents were thrilled to see their children enthusiastically performing chores they would not do at home. I guess chores are more exciting when they are carried out at a turtle sanctuary by the beach.
Aravind and the other adult volunteers took over the raking and sweeping when the youngsters got tired.
The young volunteers found the time to climb a lovely old tree in the hatchery compound after the cleaning duties were completed. I can think of no better way of spending a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Even I found a comfortable spot on a tree to sit in.
The volunteer programme was officially over around 6.00 p.m. However, we were instructed to return to the Centre around 6.45 p.m. to see if there were any turtle hatchlings for release, so we didn't go far. Most of us walked to a food stall down the road from the Centre for a quick dinner.
I spotted "Sarsi kampung" (i.e. village/bootleg Sarsi) for sale at the stalls. You don't find junk like this in the City, so Aravind had 2 bottles and I had one. It is basically a mixture of a little carbonated water and a lot of sickly sweet sarsparilla-flavoured cordial. My kidneys are still functioning today so I guess I survived the experience.
On our walk back to the Centre after dinner, we spotted half a dead jellyfish in the sand.
Two tiny turtle hatchlings were released into the sea by the staff of the Centre around 6.45 p.m. This was photographed by Wan Sze because I was still too busy poking and prodding the dead jellyfish at the time of release.
(Photo credits: Wan Sze)
Shobie, Iksha, Aravind and I stayed back at the Centre to see if any more baby turtles would hatch. We decided to call it a day and went in to shower and change around 8.30 p.m.
Just as we were about to drive off around 9.00 p.m., we saw lights outside the egg incubation room and had the good fortune of witnessing a group of researchers weighing, measuring and releasing a batch of turtle hatchlings that had just hatched at the Kem Terendak beach.
I didn't take close-up shots as I didn't want the flash from my compact camera to disorientate the hatchlings, so this will have to do. Iksha was reluctant to release the hatchlings because they were so tiny and fragile, so we had to keep persuading her that this is the best and only option to ensure that the turtles return to the beach to lay eggs in future.
Aravind patrolled the beach with one of the staff to ensure that the turtle hatchlings enter the sea and do not climb back out, which they sometimes do when distracted by streetlights and the lights from the shops and chalets. I am no good at things like this. My eyesight is horrible and I will probably be functionally blind by the age of 50.
And so ends a highly productive and fulfilling Turtle Volunteer Programme, which I was crazy enough to organise despite having to juggle work, studies, animal fostering and other volunteer commitments.
I would like to thank the participants of the Turtle Volunteer Programme for their helpfulness, generosity and willingness to accommodate imperfections in the said Programme.
To find out more about the Turtle Conservation and Information Centre, contact them at the numbers and address provided below:
Pusat Konservasi dan Penerangan Penyu
(Turtle Conservation and Information Centre)
Pantai Padang Kemunting,
Phone/Fax: 06 384 6754
Facebook Profile: https://www.facebook.com/#!/hawksbill.ecoclub.3