Sea Turtle Volunteer Project with SEATRU

Finally! Finally reached Chagar Hutang Beach, where SEATRU project is stationed at. I have wanted to volunteer for SEATRU since I was in the university but the slots were always fully booked. Working on a volunteering project myself, I know how hard it is to take one week off. Thankfully, Dr. Juanita could slot me in for less than one week. I wanted to go before October, together with the other volunteers. However, work didn’t allow me to do so. In the end I had to settle for just 3 days in October. Short but a fantastic experience!

No entry sign at the turtle sanctuary

It rained on the day I was supposed to get to Redang from Perhentian. Although the boat was delayed, luckily it didn’t deter my journey. I reached Laguna before noon, even managed to grab some food before meeting Mahadi at 1pm. Mizi, another staff came on a small boat to pick us up. It was quite a scenic boat ride to Chagar Hutang Beach. Just when we were about to reach, I spotted a dolphin! Awesome!! The beach looked isolated. Eric, the RA, briefed me on their work, rules and regulations. Short and informal but informative! It didn’t take long to know the place inside out – kitchen, toilet, accommodation, turtle gallery, etc. The station is very basic but I like it!

Chagar Hutang Beach

The main activities were night patrol and day nest check. Everyone was involved for the 8pm-12am night patrol whereas the ones from 12am-3am and 3am-6am were done in shift. The nesting beach is 350m, thus only an hourly patrol was required. There was a rule of no lights after 8pm to save electricity. During the first two nights, a turtle came up but didn’t nest. When I was doing the patrol, it felt good to know that I haven’t forgotten all my knowledge and field skills! It also reminded me of how relaxing night patrols were at Bubbles and SEATRU compared to the 5 miles patrol at Tortuguero. It was nice though to have time to watch movies, read a book and chat with the staff! Ever since at Perhentian, I have never watched more than a movie per night and here I was, watching 3 movies straight off until 3am! The free time you have doing turtle work…I miss that! On my last night there, a female turtle came up and laid 76 eggs! I was always told to keep the volume down around turtles but the turtle didn’t seem to be disturbed by the loud voices. It also surprised me that it was alright to use yellow light. All the turtle projects that I have been to only use red light. Things I learn volunteering at different projects really exposed me to different insights!

A turtle camouflaging its nest!

Turtle tracks on the beach!

The day nests check starts at 7am. Each shift lasted for 2 hours. As it was end of the nesting season, nest check was done once a day. The first day, I just followed them around and recorded the data. It was exciting to see hatchlings again! Gosh, I do miss them! On the second day, I was just randomly walking on the beach and checking the nests while following a few hermit crabs. I noticed one nest full of ants. Later in the afternoon, I told Mizi and he excavated the nest. We relocated the newly hatched babies and unhatched eggs. It was sad to see them being attacked by ants! Although 6 didn’t survive, we managed to save the rest! Every night, we would release the hatchlings into the sea (fingers crossed that they were not eaten by sharks!)

Nests marked with a stick and covered with mesh nets to prevent predators from eating the eggs (top left); Eric (top right); Mizi (bottom left); Mann (bottom right)

Ants attack!

Relocated to a new site

Released the hatchlings to begin their life journey…

There were other recreational activities. I went snorkelling on my own. The first day was almost impossible to swim out due to the big waves so I ended up sunbathing by the beach. The second day was much better. It was a sunny day and the sea was calm. However, before I got into the water, I already saw many jellyfish being washed ashore. To snorkel among them were like walking into a minefield. I only snorkelled a while and decided to get out. While I was getting out, a baby black tip reef shark swam around me! Surprised to see one so near the beach but looking at the fact that hatchlings that leave the beach serve as food to sharks, it’s not surprising to have a few sharks waiting near the beach. I spent a lot of time taking photos of hermit crabs! They were everywhere on the beach! Cute little things except that they are predators to hatchlings too!

Enjoyed sunbathing on the isolated beach!

Cute little hermit crab that certainly took its sweet time to come out of the shell!

I also went hiking with Mizi to Turtle Rock. Mizi brought me to 5 view points. The scenery was amazing! From the last stop, we could see the nesting beach and nice sunset! Due to time constraint, I didn’t trek to the famous prawn spa. I also saw many other wildlife there apart from turtles, such as macaques, mouse deers (kancil), monitor lizards, mangrove snakes, geckos…etc!

Breathtaking view from one of the view points!

Watched sunset from above!

It was a memorable and relaxing experience volunteering with SEATRU. Although I work on an island as well but I rarely have the time to just relax and chill. I gotta say being able to grab a book, lie down in a hammock and fall asleep eventually was an awesome feeling! In spite of the mosquito bites, the nature has its way to soothe my feeling – the sound of the waves hitting against the shore and the starry sky at night. For once, I really had my personal space and some privacy to not think about work. I felt reluctant to leave when time was up. I wished I had stayed longer. I would definitely go back there to volunteer again in the future!

My favourite hammock where I spent every afternoon reading and having a nap there!

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3 thoughts on “Sea Turtle Volunteer Project with SEATRU

  1. How many of you guys remembered the images and videos of the 80s and 90s, of huge Leatherback turtles on the shores of Rantau Abang, Terengganu. How many remembered that Terengganu was represented by endless beach with turtle nesting? Back then, if you were to walk down those beaches, you’ll probably be able to see a few nesting each night…. Well for the most of us, that is only a memory…. I personally have never seen one, and was told I probably won’t have the opportunity to see a leatherback ever again… on our shores anyway…. Recently in the 2008, only 2 leatherback turtles nested at Rantau Abang, compared to once not too long ago of 10,000; formerly one of the world largest. I guess with all these excessive consumption of turtle eggs as a local delicacy has not helped either. Also some of the earlier turtle hatching program wasn’t as successful as the gender of the turtles are determined by the temperature of its nests. Failing to understand this has caused a series of same gender turtles to be released back to nature, causing an imbalance in the gender ratio.

  2. Hi, was the volunteering tiring or was it quite relaxing? Are we allowed to bring along our mobile phone?

    • I was there after the volunteering period and I only stayed for a few days. It was quite relaxing as it was towards the end of the nesting season. Yes, I brought my mobile along.

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