Adopting the Pomodoro Technique in Transcribing

After the fun part of collecting data, it is time to transcribe the interviews before I could start any data analysis. I never knew that I dread transcribing to the point that I simply hate it, like no kidding. It is that bad. Probably because it feels funny to listen to my own voice. Besides, it is frustrating to keep rewinding in order to capture some words and understand the context correctly. Obviously, I understood the conversation during the interview, but for some reasons, it sometimes sounds unclear over the recording.

I am guilty of procrastination. I would find something else to do, as long as I don’t have to transcribe. But then it also means I am not progressing towards completing my study. Deep down, I know damn well that the interviews have to be transcribed eventually. I had also underestimated how time-consuming transcribing is.  In short, I just have to do it, no matter how much I do not feel like doing it, or no matter how long it will take.

When I read about the Pomodoro technique, I became intrigued to see if it would help me to just start and keep transcribing until I finish it. Pomodoro is, simply put, working 25-minute on a task, uninterrupted. So set the alarm for 25 minutes and spend the entire pomodoro time on the task you set out to do until the 25 minutes is up. Then take a 5-minute break before another round of pomodoro. After completing four pomodoros, it is time for a longer 20- to 30-minute break.

Professionally, a one-hour interview takes between 4-9 hours to transcribe. Of course, how long it takes depend on many factors like the number of speakers and audio quality.  In my interviews, there were at least 3 speakers, and sometimes up to 7 speakers. Therefore it takes multiple attempts to listen to the recording over and over, especially when everyone was talking at the same time. Still, I wanted to know roughly how longer it will take me to finish transcribing all my interviews. One month? Two months? So I started to time myself. I tried the Pomodoro technique. Surprisingly, I didn’t want to stop even though 25 minutes was up. But I still took a break, which often ended up being more than 5 minutes. I did it for a few times, but later decided to push one pomodoro to over 25 minutes.

Now, on average I can transcribe about 40 plus minutes before taking a break. The longest time I managed to stay put was 102 minutes. But it happened only once, more like a marathon final sprint to just finish the last part of the recording. So I need 14-20 minutes to transcribe a 1-min interview, which means to complete a one-hour interview, it will take between 13-21 hours over 1-5 days with plenty of breaks in between. So instead of setting 25-minutes for one pomodoro, I set a goal to complete two minutes of interview every pomodoro, even if it takes more than 25 minutes. Once I complete two minutes of interview, I try to push further before taking a break because once I take a break, it is never 5 minutes, ever.

My transcribing productivity is far behind the professional standard, but I am slowly, slowly progressing towards completion. Perhaps and hopefully with practice, transcribing gets easier and faster. As for now, just keep on transcribing. One pomodoro, two pomodoros, three pomodoros…until I finish them all.


All in a Day’s Work

I thought it would be a leisure and relaxing day to go to Long Beach today. Lala was getting a boat back to mainland while Meena was supposed to meet her supervisor. Meena only found out later that her supervisor got the dates wrong and he would only arrive the next day. Thank God, Lala’s departure was smooth. Our plan was to snorkel after Lala left. Least did we expect a boatman informing us about a dead turtle. He saw us arriving on SEATRU’s boat. They had brought the turtle back. When he showed us, it was a hawksbill, still in the juvenile stage. So we brought the turtle to Laguna’s dive center. However, they did not have facility and tools to perform a necropsy, not even a measurement tape to take measurements!

We waited until the tourists left the dive center. Then we started checking on the turtle. There was no external injuries but blood was dripping out from its mouth. I tried to open the mouth but couldn’t. We measured the turtle using a rope and marked it using a masking tape. Before we left, we kept the hawksbill in a black plastic bag so that we could pass it to Mann from SEATRU. We went snorkelling after since we still have about one and a half hour to two hours to spare.

When we first entered the water, visibility was bad. As we swam further out, the visibility got better. We saw at least 4 baby sharks swimming around. So beautiful! We snorkelled at the other side after that, which had more boulder corals. We swam out until we found the underwater postbox. To the right, there was a big group of fusiliers. There were just so many of them!!

We left at about 2pm. We slowly walked back to Laguna Jetty. On the way we took many photos. While waiting for Mann, Asma tried to get in touch with Marine Park officer regarding picking up the dead turtle. Since we didn’t hear back from them, we left when Mann came. On our way to Tarras Jetty, Asma called and said Marine Park officer was going to pick the turtle up. After speaking to them again, it was decided to hand it over to SEATRU. They would do external examination and take measurements, but not performing a necropsy.

We were dropped off at Tarras Jetty. On our way walking back, Asmadi’s boy drove past and gave us a lift back. We went for a birthday party after shower. Giulia and Jurita came later. About the same time we started speaking to the father of the family, who is looking after the hatchery under Marine Park. By the end of the day, it felt like so much had happened in one day.

No matter what, snorkel is a must!

Week 1 @ Redang Island

I am finally here, after all the time of postponing the trip to Redang Island. Everything happens for a reason, I supposed. I could have been here on my own if I had come earlier. Now there are three of us – Meena, who is a TROPIMUNDU masters students, and Lala, my friend who is here to help Meena with translation.

1 Malaysia Team

Although I have been to Redang village a couple times, it is still a foreign place. We are renting a room at Asmadi Guest House for a month. The village is not by the beach, therefore it doesn’t feel like I’m living on an island. Interestingly, there are sheep, goats and cows everywhere. It is almost impossible to avoid their droppings that are literally everywhere!

Sheep and their dropping everywhere!

We went to the nearest beach (Teluk Dalam) on our first day, which is about 10-15 minutes walk from our guest house. Teluk Dalam is also known as Turtle Bay as there is where people snorkel with turtles. Here, they feed the turtles so that they come closer so that humans can touch them. I am not very certain if feeding is good or bad to the turtles. We did see a turtle swimming away as a snorkel guide approached it with food. There were also some that swam towards the guide for food. It was during times that they were feeding that the tourists got to touch the turtles. There were quite a few individuals there. We saw at least four individuals, one with a tag on its left flipper (5756). However, we didn’t know which one was the famous JoJo!

A glimpse of Teluk Dalam @ Turtle Bay from the pathway.

On our second day, we started mapping the village by counting the number of houses. We counted 242, however some told us there are about 260+ houses here. They are also building about 160 new apartments for the second generation. Every house has more than one household, some up to four households. The village is relatively big. People usually ride a motorbike or bicycle. However, neither of us could ride a motorbike. I tried a scooter for the first time and it felt scary. I wasn’t sure if I could balance the motorbike.

Just like any other village…

Asmadi also invited us on a snorkel tour. It was definitely one of the best ones I have ever been at Redang. We went to four places, Turtle Bay, Long Beach, marine park and another site next to marine park. At all places (except Turtle Bay), we were the only boat there. We were the only ones in the water. Everything felt so calm and peaceful. We saw quite a lot – green turtles (a male with two tags), black tip reef sharks, boxfish, squids, moral eel, filefish, etc.

Snorkel with turtles @ Turtle Bay!

Pulau Pinang where the marine park is.

Watching sunset while snorkelling and I could see Lang Tengah and Perhentian from far…

For the following days, our routine has been the same. Apparently none of us are a morning person. We stay up quite late, sometimes past 2am so we did not wake up until past 9 or 10am. Our visit to local houses usually began at around noon. We would walk around the village and interview anyone who happens to be sitting outside their house. The villagers have been very friendly and welcoming. Some even offered us drinks and food. In the beginning, we managed to go to three houses and now we could interview six houses a day. Most of them are not at home during the day.

Always nice hanging out at Kak Pah’s stall!

We also met Giulia, an English Teacher working for SOLS. She teaches local kids and adults English every day, except the weekend. We met up once for dinner near the jetty. The jetty area is more happening than any other places in the village. A lot of local people hang out there. It is far from the village and not within walking distance, otherwise we would like to hang out there more often. We also met a few Chinese uncles who are working on a construction project in the village. They stay near our guest house and have been here for five years!!

Apart from swimming with turtles at Turtle Bay (as it reminds me so much of my time working at Perhentian), one of the most memorable moments was learning silat. A family invited us to watch silat in the evening. Meena was really interested to learn and I thought, well might as well learn together as I know I would never learn it if I were on my own. It was hilarious as they taught us using mainly in Malay and some English. It was a good experience, however I doubt if I could actually learn everything in less than a month.

Today is our 10th day here and time really does flies by quickly. As the days passed, we met more villagers and made more friends. I believe by the time we have to leave, we would feel sad to go.

Advice on Finishing Your PhD

A PhD study often feels overwhelmed with the workload. So much to do, lots more to read, and even more challenging to write. Throughout this journey, I occasionally receive motivation, sharing from people who had walked the journey. Everyone’s journey is different, full with different challenges and excitements. Here are a few pieces of advice, which I find really helpful in getting me through the down or stagnant moments in this journey.


1. Life is a struggle

There are always challenges in whatever you do in life. Nothing in life comes easily. You face different difficulties when you study, when you work, when you get married, etc. Doing a PhD has its hardship too. When you feel that what you do is hard, remember that even if you are working, there are things that you will find hard as well. Once you decide to take up a PhD, face the challenges and learn to deal with them. But if a PhD is not what you are looking for, then do something else. Either way there will be struggles.


2. Find your best time to write

Everyone has a different best time to write. Some find it best to write in the morning whereas some prefer to do it at night or even after midnight. It is important to find your best time to write. No matter what, write something during that time. Even just a little but do it every day. This helps so that you don’t feel the need to sit in front of the laptop the whole day, which is not so productive since you can’t write the whole time anyway. It is okay to do other stuff at times other than your writing time. I need to start adopting this. I don’t know what is my best time to write but I am a noctural person who feels more awake at night then in the morning. My writing motivation is driven by the task on hand, rather than writing at a specific time. Say if I have an assignment to finish, all I do is write that piece of assignment when I am awake until I finish the assignment. The only time when I’m not writing is when I am eating, taking a shower or sleeping. Knowing my best time to write would help so that I don’t feel like a zombie and totally burned out by the end of it.


3. Find your best place to write

Not only that, it is also equally important to look for the best place to write. Surprisingly, writing in a cafe or fast food restaurant like Mc’Donald works perfectly for some people. Some people need to write in places where it is quiet such as in a library. Believe it or not, home may not always be the best place to write since you can always find something to do at home. It is easy to stop writing and start doing house chores. I have yet to find my best place to write but I can write just fine at home once the momentum is there. Just that I can’t do transcribing at home. I tend to stop after transcribing a few lines and start doing something else – surf the net, watch movie, get some snacks or play the piano – which is why it takes days for me to transcribe one interview. So far I found it productive to transcribe in the postgraduate room or library where there are people around (but not noisy). I guess it is the sense of “yay, I am also doing my work” that prevents me from doing any other thing except transcribing.


4. Always bring a notebook (and don’t forget a pen too!)

I have this habit when I work. A notebook is like my life. Out of the blue, even during lunch, there is always something important to remember. I would never leave the house without my notebook. As a PhD student, I carry a notebook too but not as often as I should. Since I use a voice recorder for my data collection, I start to record conversation, as well as any thoughts that come to my mind. I find it easier than writing on a notebook but listening to the recording after that takes time. I use both – a notebook (mostly) and a voice recorder, depending on what I am trying to record. Funny thing with ideas is they often appear when you least expect them to. When I am sitting on a desk with a laptop and a notebook, all I sometimes do is stare at the notebook. Nothing comes. But say, I am driving or playing the piano, suddenly something would come to the mind. Mostly it happens when I am half-asleep, or maybe half-awake and “ting!” the idea comes. If I don’t write or record it down, I sometimes don’t remember it again after. So yes, always bring a notebook (or recorder) as you never know when you need it!


5. You have not failed until you quit

I always feel the struggle while trying to understand my conceptual framework, to figure out my research methodologies, to improve my interview skills, to make sense of my data. Not easy. But then I realised it has also never been easy while I was working. My supervisor once said, the easy way out is to quit. Rather true. No matter how tough it is, quitting is the easiest solution. It is okay to make mistakes since PhD is all about learning and discovering new things. Nothing about these two is easy. It will always feel difficult and frustrating until you get it right. As long as you keep progressing, eventually you will reach the destination.

New resolution in life

PhD is my Disneyland. It is a goal to finish it, but yes, how much longer? Am I there yet?

Along the journey, I discover that I am a novice in social science research, who often feel that I lack the skills and experience to do interview-based research. As I transcribe the interviews, I can see what went wrong with the way I phrase my questions as well as when I asked the questions. It bothers me because then I think, shit, will I be able to eventually get it right and gather the information I need?

After watching this video, I realised that I feel like that because I focus so much on the goal that I missed out on the values I gain throughout the journey. What went wrong in the initial data collection provides an opportunity to learn and improve. The more interviews I did, the more I get to practise and improve. I learn not to interrupt or ‘fill in the blanks’ to their answers. I learn to phrase open-ended questions to understand the meaning of their words. I learn to keep my conservation views to myself and not to have any preconceptions about their conservation perspectives. It did not occur to me how much I have learned from just doing the research as I am too occupied worrying when I will complete the study.

I am the kind of person who needs a fixed structure, following guidelines of how to do (which is why I like reading step-by-step instructions). But then there is no direct step-by-step guideline in conducting in-dept interviews. It is not like using a washing machine; first, I press the on/off button, then I choose the programme (speedy, water level, etc), pour in washing powder/liquid and click start. Voila, it starts washing my clothes. All I do the next time is repeat the same steps.

However, qualitative research using interviews is not like running a washing machine or any other machines. When the machine does not work, then something is wrong, and there will be no data. When that happens, I need to set it right, e.g. setting the parameters to ensure that the machine runs accordingly. Well, it is just not like that in research involving humans where nothing is really under control.

Since I am not doing questionnaire surveys, my questions are not fixed, meaning my questions are rephrased when I interview different people. It is something I learn, not just to listen, but to know how to ask the right questions while still being sensitive to their and my body language. There are no step-by-step guidelines to that. A lot of times I think, damn, it is easier studying animals. I trap squirrel A and I collect biometric data. Then I trap squirrel B and do that same. Different squirrels may respond differently to physical capture but what I do is repetitive.

Hence, I do not find social science research particularly simple or straight forward. Well, studying humans or anything human-related is neither simple nor straight forward since humans are complex and complicated, filled with emotions and whatsoever. Nonetheless, it has been an enlightening path and the values I get would probably help in one way or another to deal or work with different people in conservation.

Well, I am not trying to set new year resolutions merely because a new year has just begun. It is just something that struck me while I watched this video about goal-focused life and value-focused life. So I’d say have goals in life and also value the process of achieving the goals. I guess that is what mindfulness is, or in other words, live in the moment!

The Struggle to Scientific Writing

Make it a habit to write every day – that is one piece of advice from my supervisor that stays in my head. Assuming that I should get the hang of it by now but I still often wonder how and what to write every day. When I first started, I was asked to submit a write-up of 2000 words on human related turtle conservation issues globally and locally. Thinking back, I struggled to write up to 2000 words because having some background knowledge on conservation issues was not enough. I had to start reading (a lot). Reading took time, plus it was a thing to read and another thing to digest what I had read and start writing. Eventually, I managed to finish the write up.  Being a perfectionist, details matter to me and no matter how many times I re-read what I had written, I would still find things to correct. The correction seems to be never ending. As everyone said the first draft of anything is shit but it took me a long time to get that the first draft need not be perfect, they just need to be written.

Next came a comprehensive report of 7000 words I needed to work on, which details out what my research would be about, its theoretical framework and how I would proceed to do it. Once again, I felt the struggle. Obviously, writing didn’t come easily to me, especially in scientific writing where every point needs to be supported by one or more references. By then I was already introduced to the concept sustainable livelihoods approach. The framework appears to be straightforward to understand but the knowledge to apply it to my study was vague. My experiences showed that livelihoods and conservation are connected and I saw the importance of local people in conservation where their needs and interest should be considered but knowing that was not enough to write a report of 7000 words. Once again, I started to read papers that focus on the human dimensions in sea turtle conservation and sustainable livelihoods approach. Human dimensions itself are multi-faceted and diverse. There are many aspects to it, including socio-economic, cultural, tradition, sustainable use, political, local perceptions, local ecological knowledge, local support, behaviour, values, beliefs, legal, etc, which all provides crucial information that contribute to conservation. That 7000 words was a write up of that, plus a brief introduction on sustainable livelihoods approach. Why only briefly on the latter? I had not read or understood enough to incorporate this approach to elucidate the human-sea turtle interactions.

Having to accomplish a 7000 words seemed like a big deal to me at that time as I posted on Facebook that after spending so much time on it, I was glad that it was completed. Of course, I should have known then that PhD is all about writing and there is no end to it, probably not even after graduation. The next assignment was 14,000 words of literature review and a conceptual framework, explaining my research design and the approach I would use to answer the research questions. 14,000 words is double the word count of 7000 words. I no longer knew whether I was terrified by the amount of words I had to write or the fact that I would have to read a lot more in order to write more. Compared to the previous write ups, this one was the most challenging but also the most rewarding.

It was easier for me to read turtle related papers as I am from a science background. My research, however, is a social science research. Like many who are from a natural science background, I am familiar with hypothesis and quantitative methods and not conceptual framework and qualitative methods. I felt that the knowledge I had acquired to do research could not all be applied here. Reading journals alone were not adequate to understand the methods or concepts. I realised that I would need to read up on social science research and sustainable livelihoods approach. I started by borrowing 10 books related to social science research and it took me almost a month to read and understand about worldviews, qualitative methods, case studies, etc, and to finally decide on the methods for data collection and analysis. Despite knowing the link between livelihoods and conservation, I had to write out why a livelihood approach would be suitable and how its framework would be useful to the research. One thing about taking too long to write is it causes the mind to feel saturated. It is okay to take a break once in a while but not leaving it aside for too long.

In the end, 14000 word count was not a concern anymore, rather the content of the write up that matters. I was asked to improve it a few times and had since re-submitted a couple of times that all I felt was that I had spent enough (or way too much time) on this write up and that I was ready to move on. When a text stating “very happy with your new doc” from my supervisor arrived today, I felt relief. Of course, meantime while waiting for her reply, I had started working on analysing data for some preliminary findings. Writing and reading became a routine in my life now. The are many times when I did not want to spend time in front of the computer screen. I miss working in the field even though the work was demanding, it was fulfilling. Still, I can’t escape from writing. I might still feel the struggle in writing but I am taking every opportunity to write to improve my writing and I hope (as what most people say) it will get easier eventually with a lot of practice.

Natuna Island – Beyond Expectation


Natuna Island from the East – a view of Sepempang Village

Natuna Islands are not widely known, despite being situated between Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo in the South China Sea. The archipelago consists of 272 islands with the largest being Natuna Besar, an island that looks like a human head from the side. I had to find the location on Google Map when I first heard of it. My supervisor received news that someone from Natuna expressed interest in selling turtle eggs to Terengganu and it was to her interest to find out more about this. The concern was without the ban of commercial sale of turtle eggs in Terengganu, the state will eventually become a hub for illegal trade of sea turtle eggs. The aim of the visit to the island was to look for that person whom we knew by Halim, plus to explore and understand more about sea turtles and the communities.


The location of Natuna Island

Getting there was quite a long journey. My travel began from Kuala Terengganu where I flew to Kuala Lumpur early in the morning. There I met my supervisor and her husband and we continued the journey taking a bus to Johor Bahru and a ferry to Batam. We stayed a night in Batam and the next morning flew to Ranai, the administrative centre of Natuna Islands. It was a small military-based airport. We waited for our luggage that was transported by a truck and it was funny seeing everyone walking after the truck. Our luggage was left at an empty space like a basketball court. It felt a bit uncomfortable not knowing how things work, like where to wait and when will the luggage arrive. My supervisor termed it as ‘chaotic organised’.


The only airport at Natuna Island

We took a cab to look for accommodation. After showing us a few, we decided to stay at Wisma Star Inn, a three-storey building located right in the middle of Ranai town. The room is very basic but spacious. I found it strange that the toilet did not have a sink and a toilet cistern to flush the squatting toilet. However, I noticed that every toilet I used in locals’ houses do not have a sink and a toilet cistern. Therefore, bringing a toiletry bag with hook would be very useful.


Wisma Star Inn at Ranai town

We started by visiting the market and saw hawksbill turtle eggs on sale. Compared to Terengganu, the eggs are much cheaper in Natuna. It was approximately RM0.80 and RM1.20 for one hawksbill and green turtle egg, respectively. In the search of Halim, we visited the village head who referred us to the Oceanography and Fisheries Department, who later referred us to a few locals. It looks like a fruitless search but we learned a lot about the communities in relation to sea turtles. There has been an effort initiated by the communities to set patrol a small island off the coast of Sepempang, namely Senoa Island. It was a pleasure to be able to join one of the locals patrolling the beach and listening to his stories. Lucky us, we found Halim on our third day. It turned out (thank God) that he did not want to sell turtle eggs to Terengganu but during his visit to Terengganu, he requested the authority here to provide him with satellite tracking to track the turtles at Natuna.


A visit to the market and fishing port


Some attractions at Ranai town (we missed Alif Stone Park)


On a pompom to Senoa Island


Senoa Island – such a beautiful island but not inhabited

We managed to visit Sedanau Island, off the West coast of Natuna Island, which is a fishing village that looks very organised and modern. We met a few people who shared a lot about their island and natural resources, etc and it was very interesting. A few actually owned fish farms where they raise mainly coral fishes or crustaceans. Indonesia has always been one of the main exporter of seafood, including Napoleon wrasse. I do not dive often and always only at Perhentian. Until today, I have not seen a Napoleon wrasse in the wild and the closest-to-the-wild encounter was in a fish farm. Some of the Napoleons were captured when they are offspring as small as our fingers and being raised in fish farms until they are at least 1 kg before they are sold to Hong Kong. It was heartbreaking to hear that juvenile and adult Napoleons were captured using potassium cyanide. There is a quota set to control the trade of Napoleon wrasse but there are more available in the market than the allowed amount.

Sedanau Island, off West coast of Natuna Island

Sedanau Island, off West coast of Natuna Island

In short, the trip was way beyond expectation. The lives of most people living off the coast are heavily depended on their natural resources. Fishing and agriculture are still their main sources of income. Tourism has started but not well developed yet. Many are also involved fish farming and trading industry, supplying any marine resources that are in demand abroad. Seaweed farming is also very common there and to my surprise, the drink made of seaweed actually tasted good! Unlike some animals like chicken that can be breed, most of the fishes cannot be bred and to supply for the increasing demand, they need to be caught in the wild. It is bizarre to learn that most of them feel that their natural resources won’t go extinct. I wonder how true it is for Napoleon wrasse when they fish the babies, the juveniles and also the adults, leaving them with a very slim chance to grow into adulthood and reproduce. I guess that is life and no matter where it is, there are always conflicts between human and wildlife.


We ventured into an unknown island but left with new friendships and good memories!

36th ISTS in Peru


For a turtle lover like me, it is a dream to attend the International Sea Turtle Symposium (ISTS), to meet like-minded people and learn from others. I first knew about it when I was a Research Assistant at Tortuguero, Costa Rica in 2011. Back then I applied to attend the one in 2012 but I accepted a job offer in Malaysia and it was beyond my monetary budget to fly from Malaysia. For the next few years, my work was mainly educational outreach activities involving local communities and tourists. Occasionally I had the opportunity to help with turtle night patrol. Slowly, the local staff started to ask me for help when needed and I helped out more. Last year, the Perhentian Turtle Project was set up to study and conserve the sea turtle population in the Perhentians through research and outreach activities. Thanks to many, the dream of setting up a turtle project and presenting at ISTS came true!

For the first time, the ISTS was held in South America and better still in Peru, where the famous Machu Picchu is! More of a reason to go and kill two birds with one stone. Nonetheless, it still took me a long time to source for fund and decide to go. After that, it was all about preparation and planning for the trip!

ISTS was more casual than I thought. The best part was seeing people who I have never seen for years! The first two days were workshops and I signed up for Photo ID Workshop. I was overwhelmed to meet people I only knew their names from reading their papers which had helped tremendously to start the photo ID research in the Perhentians, as well as the team from Wildbook and Hotspotter! Wildbook and Hotspotter will be working towards building a photo ID automated system integrated with online database for sea turtles, which is good news! On the second day, I presented an introduction of my PhD research on human-sea turtle interactions during the regional meeting, as well as volunteered for Shark Workshop.

Photo ID Workshop

Photo ID Workshop

The remaining days I was busy running between two halls to listen to oral presentations that were going on concurrently and looking through as many posters as I could. The silent auction had a variety of turtle-related stuff one can imagine – socks, shirts, usb drive, necklaces, stamps, bank notes, etc, plus the crazy live auction, which was so much fun!! Not forgetting the video night where the video from our project was played in Parque Reducto in Lima! I did not get a ticket for the gala night, hence only went after the dinner. Good memories of a mix of work and play at ISTS!

Clockwise: Brendan sharing what he has learned working with sea turtles; Oral presentation, Video night at Parque Reducto, Me presenting a poster.

Clockwise: Brendan sharing what he has learned working with sea turtles; Oral presentation; Video night at Parque Reducto; Me presenting a poster.

The silent and crazy live auctions!!

The silent and crazy live auctions!!

The last night of ISTS!

The last night of ISTS!

A Memorable Trip to Lawas

24 hours a day, that is how much time everyone has. For me, there’s not always time for everything, in fact, I need to make time for some things. Although I certainly did not expect to leave Perhentian any time in April due to the fact that we had our first two volunteers arriving at the project, I decided to join my supervisor’s field trip to Borneo.

Lawas is the place we went. Clueless about where it is, I searched for the location on Google Map. Lawas is in Sarawak and it is only approximately 3-4 hours drive from Kota Kinabalu. Allim, another post grad student, missed his flight and took a later flight. We had some time to kill in town. Least did I expect we would end up in a shopping mall upon arrival. We also went to Tanjung Aru. After picking Allim up, we went for dinner at a night market. We spent the first night at Kota Kinabalu.

Watching sunset at Tanjung Aru

Watching sunset at Tanjung Aru

Seafood dinner at night market

Seafood dinner at night market

The next morning, we drove to Lawas after breakfast. At some point, we crossed the border from Sabah to Sarawak. It was quite a long drive until we reached Bukit Sari, where we stayed for the next few days. Ismail is the only family who lives by the bay, which is an important seagrass habitat that serves as a foraging grounds for many marine life, including sea turtles, dugongs, fishes, crabs, etc. There were two huts floating above the water. Life is very basic there. They catch what they need for food. There was water supply while electricity generated by a generator, was only for use at night. The view was stunning and sun rise and sun set could be seen. Ismail and his family were extremely welcoming and friendly. They showed really high hospitality to all guests. Everyone was so pleasant and happy. Simple and contented with life. His Mum, who was 107 years old, was still very healthy and strong. Fishing, washing, you name it, she was doing them! It was interesting to listen the stories about their lives.

Ismail's warm home where we stayed for a few nights

Ismail’s warm home where we stayed for a few nights

We were at Lawas because the bay, namely Kuala Lawas, was discovered a few years back as a significant seagrass habitat. A sea turtle tracked through satellite was found stopping at this area. That was when researchers explored this area and found a huge area of seagrass bed, which is a size of a few football fields. Locals have seen turtles around this area but they rarely nest here. Alfonso, who is another post grad student, is doing his research studies on human-sea turtle interactions here. This trip is like a recce to understand about the study site and the human populations living around this bay. Sitting at the dining area at Ismail’s place, we could see the whole bay. During high tide, the seagrass meadows were covered by water. However, when the tide is low, we could walk around the whole bay, which is about 3km long. We managed to wander around the bay when the tide was low. The view was beautiful and surprisingly, my phone coverage was better as I went further out from the bay. We helped to look for shells. Although I found none, I managed to see starfish, fishes, crabs. The sun sets an hour earlier than in Peninsular Malaysia.

The seagrass bed shows itself when the tide is low

The seagrass bed shows itself when the tide is low

A walk on the seagrass bed

A walk on the seagrass bed

There are a few villages in Kuala Lawas. Most of the villagers are fishermen and many have seen turtles, feeding or coming up to the surface to breathe. At times, some turtles were caught in their nets and they would release the turtles. For the next two days, we drove to different villages to speak to the village head and gain some insights of human interaction with sea turtles at their feeding grounds. Depending on their fishing sites, some sighted turtles more frequently than the others. I was more a listener than a talker and most of the time, I didn’t even know most of the names of the fishes, particularly the local names. I gotta say I learned a lot by listening to their conversations. The locals produce lots of seafood products – dried fish, grilled prawns, etc.

Fishing villages

Fishing villages

The daily life of the local communities

The daily life of the local communities

Talking to the local communities

Talking to the local communities

A variety of local seafood

A variety of local seafood

Being at Lawas made me realised how simple life can be, how sustainable life is when humans only acquire the subsistence in life. Many of them live above the water where their houses are connected via bridges and boats. Their livelihoods depend on the sea, in which most are fishermen and they fish for a living. Of course they are not entirely backwards. They do have the latest technology, such as mobiles, Astro, etc. Still, compared to city folks, they leave much smaller carbon footprints. I definitely gained a lot from this trip…really hope to go back there again.

Saying goodbye is never easy but as the Malay saying goes “Setiap pertemuan pasti ada perpisahan, itulah lumrah kehidupan”. Till we meet again…

2012 University of Exeter winter graduation

It was good to have almost 10 days off after being at Perhentian since February. My last night at home, while going through my room, I found a plastic bag with my graduation pictures inside. It was mailed to my house but I wasn’t at home. 6 months had passed since my graduation ceremony. Looking at the photos, I realised how much weight I have lost. I miss my friends…good times! It was nice to have my parents around. Christie, Debi and J, thanks for coming, it meant a lot to me. Time really flies, it seemed like quite some time ago when I was studying in England. Not sure when I will have the chance to go back but I would love to go back again and hopefully in summer, not winter.