Seaside sanctuary

WHILE many of us know Perhentian Island Resort for its soft, sandy white beaches and its blue seas thriving with marine life encompassing Malaysia’s National Marine Park, only some are aware of the sea turtle species that come to nest.

Sea turtles play an important role in sustaining the marine ecosystem. Each species is said to uniquely affect the environment, maintaining healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs, balancing food marine systems and facilitating nutrient cycles from water to land in various ways.

TURTLE CONSERVATION

Across the World Oceans there are seven species of sea turtles. Of these, four inhabit Malaysian waters – the Green turtles or Penyu Agar, the Hawksbill or Penyu Sisik, the Leatherback or Penyu Belimbing, and the Olive Ridley known as Penyu Lipas. Unfortunately, these species are reported to have declined in numbers over the past and are on the brink of extinction.

According to local ranger Pak Din, a resident Sisik has made Perhentian its regular haunt. Since he was a child, he has seen the turtle come up to lay eggs on the island’s shores. Easily recognisable due to its missing hind flippers, this handicap makes it quite impossible for the terrapin to dig holes when nesting. This makes it rely on people to help it when laying its eggs – providing the perfect opportunity and example of turtle and human interaction.

PLACE OF REFUGE

A female turtle is said to lay hundreds of eggs at each nesting period. However, only a few hatchlings survive into their first year due to predators like crabs, monitor lizards, birds and fish. As turtles take decades before they start breeding, surviving ones are still not free from threat due to commercial fisheries, loss of nesting and feeding habitats, excessive harvesting of eggs, pollution and coastal development. While turtles are known for their longevity, it’s an ironic twist of fate considering the few that make it into adulthood.

However, Perhentian is a protected key habitat area that makes up a part of the National Marine Park of Malaysia. In dealing with the extinction of these sea turtle populations, research is continuously carried out, covering themigration of these species via satellite methods and tagging. Research shows that these gentle reptiles travel fromas far as Vietnam and the Philippines, swimming great distances only to come on land to nest.

OPERATION ECOTOURISM

At Perhentian, turtle conservation is a regular practice. Turtles are protected at all stages of their life cycle, including protecting the eggs and the mothers from threat during nesting period, hence, the establishment of the Hatchery Centre on Perhentian Island, a collaborated effort with the Fishery Department and various eco NGOs.

In early 2016, Perhentian Island Resort in Pulau Perhentian Besar took on an ecotourism approach which was observed by its staff and visitors. During nesting season between April and October, a Safe Turtle Zone is set up on the resort beach where volunteer staff and visitors help guard the nesting mothers and their eggs. Laid eggs are sent to the hatchery for safe keeping where visitors have a chance of releasing some of the baby turtles back into the ocean once they hatch.

Turtle conservation is of utmost importance at Perhentian Island Resort. Visit to learn more of these gentle sea creatures and help raise awareness on its dwindling species.