Reflections from Asia Parks Congress Part 2: A love letter to the sea turtles

Submitted by Hazrina Zainal. This blog is the second in a series from three youth participants sponsored by the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas to attend the Asia Parks Congress held in Sabah, Malaysia in May 2022.

Graceful. Majestic. Utter mystery. There are just not enough adjectives in the English language to describe my feeling every time I lay eyes on a sea turtle. These captivating reptiles 

My fascination with sea turtles started when I was still a student, in my early days volunteering to care for rescued sea turtles in Sabah. The moment I laid eyes on my first turtle; I fell in love. It was a beautiful green turtle, almost a metre long, resting on a huge blank tank. A rescuer had just cleaned the barnacles off her and conducted an examination to ensure she was in good health before returning to the sea. It was a pivotal moment to me as I realized I am meant to be in wildlife conservation.

Nur Zarhazrina Zainal love sea turtle Asia Parks Congress APC

When I first joined the Perak State Parks Corporation (PSPC), I was tasked with coordinating research projects on the Pulau Sembilan SP. Pulau Sembilan is basically a small archipelago consisting of nine small islands clustered together. A primary producer of anchovies in Perak, it is home to various marine species, to my delight, including two species of turtles, the green sea turtle and the hawksbill turtles. It was almost a dream come true.

The very first moment the boat touched the sand, I was greeted by a heartbreaking sight. There it was, floating aimlessly in the waters, a green sea turtle carcass. I was traumatized, but something had to be done. I asked the rangers whether this was a frequent observation. The rangers informed me that turtles used to frequently land on the Lalang beach to lay their eggs. However, egg predation by monitor lizards drastically cut the sea turtles visit until one day, they just stopped coming. 

I was determined to do something about it. We decided to start a project to monitor sea turtle landings. The rangers and I underwent intensive training under the tutelage of Dr Nurul Salmi of USM. We learnt how to perform monitoring and data collection and picked up basic hatchery knowledge. Starting with zero knowledge was no mean feat. However, Dr Nurul Salmi and her team were with us, guiding us every step of the way. Thus, Projek Penyu was born.

Our main objective was to focus on increasing sea turtle landings on the islands and monitor its population. We strived to understand the sea turtle behaviour in the area as it will lead to better planning of future projects and bring in more research to the islands. We performed beach cleanup almost every day. We built a small hut on a secluded beach so the rangers could conduct night patrolling. All these were done to create a safe and welcoming environment for the turtles to come and lay their eggs.

The project, however, did not produce the outcome we wanted. However, it was a passion project of mine that I was and still am most proud of. The blood, sweat, and tears from our relentless rangers continue to inspire me to keep working in conservation. It is a long and arduous journey, one that is worth every single effort. Losing hope is not an option, and I sincerely hope one day people will see that even the smallest gesture can help contribute to conserving our precious wildlife.


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