I woke up feeling excited. Today was the first day of my trip to Terengganu as I was volunteering for a Wildlife Conservation Project organised by Charisma Movement. I was really looking forward to opening my eyes about this topic most notably about river terrapins, turtles, mangroves and fireflies, a topic that I knew very little on.
We gathered at Batu Caves and left to go to the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia (TCS) in Kemaman, Terengganu. I met all the other volunteers at Batu Caves, they all seemed like very nice people. I knew Ash, Wathiqah and Dzafran from college so I felt comfortable around them but Bella, Euan, Haiqal, Adham, Eu Keat, Brian and Ru Yi were all strangers to me. When it comes to meeting new group of people, I tend to remain quiet. I like observing them and slowly, as I get to know them, I tend to speak more and more as I am able to gauge with them better through my understanding of them. The same happened here. I was very quiet throughout the trip but towards the end, I became more vocal and comfortable with the group.
We reached TCS and were greeted by Aliah, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She introduced us to their terrapin pond, nests and gave us an extremely informative talk on the different species of turtles. I learnt a lot from Aliah and was really admired how passionate she and the other TCS volunteers were about the conservation of river terrapins. Aliah then let us clean the terrapin pond and allowed each of us to pick one terrapin to scan and release into the main river nearby. We participated in a terrapin race in which each volunteer had a terrapin and we had to race our terrapins against each other to see which terrapin would be first to crawl to the river. My terrapin was very slow, but I was glad that it was not the last to reach the river! It was an extremely fun experience.
Aliah then took us back to our homestay in Kemaman. At night we went for dinner at a lovely restaurant just by the side of the Kemaman river. It was my first time ever trying the famous Terengganu “nasi dagang” and I left craving for more. I was exhausted by the end of the day but still so satisfied as I felt I learnt so much about river terrapins, an animal I was not even aware of its existence a few months ago. I went to bed feeling excited for the next day.
Today we went to Cherating Turtle Sanctuary. I saw one of the nicest beaches there, the water was very clear. Unfortunately, there was lots of rubbish around, so our team decided to take some time to collect the rubbish. Then we went to this exhibition owned by the Department of Fisheries where we saw several turtles! Aliah and her 2 interns, Atikah and Nadihah, explained to us all sorts of cool facts about turtles, the different species of turtles and the threats that they faced. Unfortunately, the turtles at the exhibition looked pretty stressed in the little pools they were kept, and the pools were also not very well maintained. It was quite depressing.
Afterwards we went to Rimbun Dahan, another turtle conservation sanctuary. Unfortunately, Rimbun Dahan was badly hit by terrible beach erosion so there was not much we could do there apart from helping them through community service. We were tasked to paint murals to help beautify their sanctuary and was more than happy to do so. Ah Long, the sanctuary leader, then allowed each of us to release some baby turtles into the sea, it was a lovely experience!
At night, we went for a firefly briefing and tour! The boatman provided several cool fun facts about fireflies and was very enthusiastic when explaining which made me really enjoy the learning process. The tour was extremely beautiful, I left the place with a much deeper love and appreciation for the beauty and uniqueness of fireflies. Day 2 was extremely enjoyable, I learnt so many new things about turtles and fireflies that day which made me feel so grateful to be a part of this trip.
Today we went to ecoCare centre at Kerteh. We also checked out of our homestay in Kemaman as we were heading to Kuala Terengganu at night. At ecoCare we learnt about mangrove trees and their importance to our ecosystem. Mangrove trees are habitat to several wildlife, and they are also a natural barrier to protect us against tsunamis.
First, we were tasked to make mudballs. The mudballs were needed to help the health of the ecosystem by getting rid of the bad bacteria in the river. We were then told to throw the mudballs we made into the river, an activity that was extremely fun. Then the interns at ecoCare took us on a walk around the mangrove swamp. The walk was extremely tiring as we constantly kept getting stuck in the mud, but it was really fun. We saw several different species of wildlife at the swamp like crabs and mudskippers. Then the ecoCare staff taught us to do mangrove re-planting and mangrove seeding.
Through there I was also able to interact with some of the interns and locals who were extremely passionate about the work that ecoCare was doing. I really admired their determination to help protect the environment, especially the mangrove ecosystem which is highly important to us.
We then departed to Kuala Terengganu where we stayed at another homestay. It was yet another tiring but satisfying day
It was the final day of our trip. We rented a boat to take us to Chagar Hutang Turtle Sanctuary located on Redang Island. We met Syam, Bella’s friend, who was doing her research on sea turtles with SEATRU at Chagar Hutang. Chagar Hutang is extremely disconnected from the outside world, there is no mobile phone connection, life there is extremely simple and peaceful. It felt like heaven on Earth as the place is extremely beautiful. There we did turtle nest excavation. The interns showed us how to excavate the turtle nests to search for their eggs. We managed to see a few cute new-born baby turtles trying to climb out of the ground.
We were taught to not take the new-borns out of their holes as they need to climb out of the ground themselves in order to strengthen their muscles. We were also showed nests where all the eggs were rotten due to attack from fungus. The intern also showed us one nests which they think was attacked by a monitor lizard as the markers for the nest were removed. This put things into perspective for me as I previously had learnt about the threats that sea turtles faced through Aliah’s talk, but witnessing it made me even more sad.