2019 – Stay Strong and Have Faith

Wow, I did not realise my last post was in January. I have not written anything since. I have not been active in updating any updates or posts on social media as well. I actually find all of it daunting. With all the writing (for my PhD) and posting (for study- and work-related) on social media, I just do not feel like writing anything else that is not required. In fact, this year I read more books than the years before. What I miss about blogging is not so much about writing but more of reading back on places I have been, things I have done, people I have met. It brings back memories. As usual, before a new year begins, I reflect upon the current year before it ends and write a blog about it so that I could read back again in the future on the year of 2019.

India

I love to travel, to explore into the unknown. It feels exhilarating. However, this year I travelled abroad less. The only trip abroad that I planned was to India for Salima’s wedding. Thankfully she got married, otherwise India would still be on my bucket list of countries to visit. It was a hectic yet very meaningful trip. As usual I wish we had stayed longer. It was my first Indian Wedding in India and the preparation and packing were quite stressful. Of all my life, I had never put on a sari or any Indian attire. I am glad that a few Indian friends lent us their saris and lenghas. We managed to prepare a few different attires for different wedding events. Before the wedding, we spent a few days in Mumbai to explore the city. We even went shopping in Mumbai for accessories. Dad needed his too! Guys always had it easier, I think. Mumbai was much exciting and safer than I thought. People were polite and friendly too. Food tasted better than I thought although Dad was pretty much done with roti and Chicken Briyani by the end of our stay there. Thankfully, no food poisoning or diarrhea. The weather was hot during the day. I could not fathom the way they drive there. No rules applied and the honking was insane! We met so many scouts and guides there which made our daily schedule packed. If we had more days there, perhaps the meetups could be spread out so that our days were more relaxed. Not only were we attending different wedding events, in between we were scheduled to meet scouts and guides and attend different scout events. There were times where I just wanted to stay in and rest. Nonetheless, I really appreciate the warm hospitality. While I was walking on the streets in Mumbai, I realised how much I miss travelling. I remember telling myself “I wish I could do this every day”! It felt energising. The longer I am in my PhD journey, the more I feel tied up to it. This means if there is no solid reason for me to do something (non-related to my PhD), then my conscience reminds me constantly that I should be writing my thesis. This is one of the reasons I have not been able to plan another trip other than India. There was no reason to. In 2020, instead of letting my thesis tied me down, grounded at a place, I am going to make it a point to travel more. Life passes by each day and time flies. Just gotta go with the heart and do it.

YSEALI Boot Camp

YSEALI started in 2014. Back then I was interested to apply for the Professional Fellowship. Five weeks in the US sounds like once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, I was not eligible to apply and by the time I finish my PhD, I would be past the eligible age. I grabbed an opportunity (PhD) and missed the other opportunity (YSEALI), that’s life I suppose. When I saw the advert for YSEALI Boot Camp 2019, I was debating for a long time whether or not to apply. It was not just a 2-day boot camp, the winning teams would have to execute the solution they pitched. I did not think I have the time for another project. In the end, I applied after knowing Wid and Melisa were joining. Little did I expect that our pitch would be the winning pitch. I barely remember what I learned throughout the 2-day boot camp. At that time I was actually confused (big time) with what we were supposed to do. In such a confusion, I was surprised that we won. USD2,000 was not a lot but the project that we had to execute required a lot of commitment and time. It sounded simple, the planning looked straight forward but there were challenges and frustrations. But hell, we managed to co-organise the Run for River Terrapin with the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia. During the grand finale, I felt relief that it was over. I still remember one of the slogan “Never Too Young to Lead”. It did not relate so much to me who was already 35 years old. “Never Too Old to Lead” would have been more appropriate. Their enthusiasm was really something! Although I could not apply for the Professional Fellowship, I am glad for the opportunity to join the YSEALI Boot Camp. It would be my first and last YSEALI programme because I am now past the eligible age of 18-35 years old.

(Virtual) Run for River Terrapin 2019

During the YSEALI Boot Camp, we were tasked to brainstorm a solution to a local problem faced by a local NGO. Our team, Hungry, pitched a solution for the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia (TCS) to raise public awareness about the society and its work in conserving freshwater turtles as well as to raise funds for them to carry out conservation and research work. In a team of five people, we proposed to organise a physical run in conjunction with the TCS annual river terrapin release programme in October. However, we decided to organise a virtual run instead so that the project could be completed before the deadline at the end of September. Few of the main challenges included (1) coordinating among team members as everyone had their own schedule and other commitments, (2) promoting the run to get more people to register and (3) troubleshooting issues encountered by runners while tracking their run using the app. Nonetheless, we managed to pull it through with Daryl being the main force in making sure that tasks were completed. We had lots of support from TCS, BiiB+ (the online platform/app we used for this) and Me.reka. It was a great experience. This idea was pitched with the aim to make it an annual event. Lessons learned from the first time orginising this event could be used to anticipate and mitigate issues so that the upcoming events would run more smoothly, reach out to more people and raise more funds. Besides being in the organising team, I also participated in the run with my family and friends. I do not particularly enjoy running but in that month I walked/jogged between 5-15km every day. I did not know where I got the motivation from but seeing my parents walked every day pushed me to do the same. It was like a competition. I felt relieved when the run ended. I was more than ready to go back to swimming and Zumba.

Sea Turtle Photo-ID Project

I have a thing for photo-identifying sea turtles. I like looking at the scale patterns. Since the start of a photo-ID project in the Perhentians, more and more sea turtle projects are starting to identify individual sea turtles using this methods. All of us are a part of the Malaysian Sea Turtle Photo-ID Network. SEATRU is the last to join the network in 2019. Thanks to Lyvia and SEATRU for making this happen, from bunting design (check out the bunting here!), distributing buntings to receiving sighting photos from citizen scientists. Not many members of the public have submitted sighting photos but we hope to engage more people. Szabina also helped in collecting sighting photos on nesting beaches. Sea turtle conservation has begun at Redang since the 1980s but conservation efforts focus primarily on nesting beaches. Photo-ID is a cost-effective and less invasive way to identify sea turtles in the water but gets more time consuming as the database increases.

Minggu Penyelidikan dan Inovasi (MPI) 2019

Thanks for SEATRU’s involvement in taking part in this Research and Innovation Week, I had the opportunity to participate and be part of the team. Lyvia and I submitted an entry to present about the photo-ID project at Redang Island. However, the project at Redang Island had yet to begin so we used the outcome from the Perhentian Turtle Project to show how a citizen science sea turtle photo-ID project could raise the interest and engage the public in sea turtle conservation. At the same time, it helps us to better understand about the sea turtle populations, for example the number of individuals present in an area and the threats they face. I truly enjoy myself during MPI as there were a lot of other interesting research and innovation being presented, not only from higher education institutions but high school students! Very proud of SEATRU for winning the special prize for their Turtle Lab at Taaras Redang Resort. Besides, Lyvia and I also won a bronze medal for the photo-ID project. Overall, it was a great experience.

International Congress of Conservation Biology (ICCB) 2019

The ICCB is an international conference that brings people from a diverse fields of study in conservation together. Attending it in home country was an advantage for Malaysians as we could save up a lot more than attending one abroad. It was nice to catch up with friends and meeting people whom I only knew from social medias. There were so many concurrent sessions, making it hard to decide which to attend. The schedule was back-to-back from morning until night. Every day was well spent, listening to other people’s work, meeting new people, learning new knowledge, etc. It was a place to listen to conservation optimism stories and get inspiration from others. Definitely hope to attend it again in the future!

Fifi (My Cat) and My Aunt

My aunt and my cat left one after another within three days. It was the lowest point in my life this year. Not long after Fifi stopped eating on her own, my aunt was hospitalised after a stroke. We had hope that they would get better but they left in the end. It was already sad to grieve for my aunt. When Fifi left, I was devastated. The loss was unbearable, knowing that she won’t be around anymore in the house or rubbing herself against our feet. There was guilt, wondering if we could have done something earlier to save her. She was only with us for less than 3 years but she was already our family. She did not just come into our house but she entered our hearts and brought so much joy and companionship. I never knew it would hurt so much when a pet leaves. Pets are not just pets, they are indeed our family. The only comfort of their passing was to know that they were no longer in pain. As a Buddhist who believes in reincarnation, I am hoping the next life would be a good one. I hope Fifi will have a healthy life.

Paper Publication

This deserves to be mentioned here as writing this paper took three years plus until it was accepted for publication. Allim and I started writing separately in mid 2016. It was not until November 2016 that Dr. Ja, our supervisor, began organising writing sessions to work on the paper together. We first submitted the draft to a journal in mid 2017. After not hearing back from them for half a year, my supervisor wrote in to inquire about the status. It turned out they had not sent it to the reviewers. Three months later in March 2018, we were informed that the paper was rejected. On the positive side, there were comments to improve the draft. At that time, we thought that paper could be split into two papers. My supervisor suggested to take out a part to make it into another paper. I did but just to find out from my supervisor later that the paper would not make sense without the part that was taken out. So we worked on the initial draft but improved it before sending it to another journal in November 2018. It was not until November 2019 that the paper was accepted. In between, there were lots of comments to address and corrections to do. It felt like the paper would never see the light of being published. I am glad that it is done as I have read the draft so many times that I could not work on it anymore.

Final Thoughts

These are a few of the more significant events that happened this year. Another important aspect of my life is finishing my thesis. Finally I am able to put my thoughts down in words and sent my supervisor a draft. As expected, I need to rewrite and restructure. To me writing a thesis is hard. I can’t wait to get it done and begin a new chapter in life! I look forward to 2020. When I was in primary school, our Prime Minister talked about Vision 2020. At that time, 2020 seemed like a far far distance away and I could barely imagine what I would be doing or where I would be in 2020. Time flies indeed. There is so much I want to do, I just have to get this done once and for all.

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, 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!