Releasing Baby Turtles into the Sea in Cherating, Malaysia
Malaysia’s East Coast is a well-known nesting ground for turtles. There are 7 species of marine turtles in the world and 4 of these lay their eggs on Malaysian beaches. The 4 species are:
- Leatherback turtle
- Green turtle
- Olive Ridley turtle
- Hawksbill turtle
To encounter this problem, several turtle sanctuaries have been built along the beaches to protect the turtles and their eggs, as well as raise public awareness. Some of the sanctuaries are government-funded, while some are privately owned.
Cherating Turtle Sanctuary
Cherating Turtle Sanctuary is the official, government-funded sanctuary in Cherating, Pahang. It is located next to Club Med on Chendor Beach, and has been opened to the public since 1998.
Every year, from April to August, the sanctuary collects eggs from the beach to hatch them in a protected area away from poachers until they are ready to be released back to the sea. They also organize a special program that lets visitors experience first-hand what it’s like to release the tiny babies.
In August 2018, my partner and I paid a visit to Cherating with the sole intention of participating in this activity. The sanctuary was easy enough to find. It was a traditional-style wooden house with a large front yard. The main gate wasn’t open for cars to enter, so we parked outside and walked through a side gate toward the reception.
However, we received a less than enthusiastic welcome. The two ladies seated behind the counter didn’t even bother to acknowledge our presence or say hello. Even as we approached and greeted them, they still appeared completely disinterested. All they did was point out where the donation box was.
We thought that maybe we were being ignored because they knew we were locals. That’s a common discrimination in Malaysia or anywhere in Southeast Asia, where I might be mistaken for a local.
Presumably, only the honorable foreign tourists (especially white ones) are worthy of their attention. But we were wrong this time. A couple of Caucasian tourists who came in before us were also left to their own devices.
Well, what a shame. If they wanted to spread awareness about the endangered turtles, the least they could do was be a little more welcoming to people who came and showed interest.
We asked the two ladies at what time they were releasing the baby turtles that night. Much to our disappointment, they said they were not going to release any because there had been no new hatchlings.
When we called them the previous week for confirmation, they told us not to worry. “Just come,” they said, “we release turtles every night in August.”
Not wanting to let our disappointment show, we went in anyway to look at the exhibits. There were a few posters on the wall with information on sea turtles, along with several replicas. Outside, in the backyard, there were three ponds of varying sizes, each containing a different species of turtles.
Volunteers from a local university were busy cleaning the ponds during our visit. It seemed like we had come all the way from Kuala Lumpur just to watch turtles swimming in a pond.
At one corner, we saw a basket containing really tiny baby turtles. Apparently, they were a few weeks old, but nobody explained to us why they were not being released to the sea.
While we watched the volunteers at work, a group of tourists from Club Med arrived. Club Med had their own tour guide. Unlike the lethargic sanctuary workers, this tour guide actually took the time to explain everything about the turtle lifecycle and what the sanctuary had been doing in the conservation effort. We stood behind the group to listen.
After they finished, we left and started asking around if there was any other turtle sanctuary nearby. I searched online, but nothing came up. It was only toward the evening when we finally stumbled upon one called Rimbun Dahan Turtle Hatchery, located just a few kilometres away.
Rimbun Dahan Turtle Hatchery
Rimbun Dahan Turtle Hatchery (RDTH) was founded in 2013 by Kasturi Resort’s owner Angela Hijjas, with the help of Pak Su, a military veteran with a profound love for nature and marine wildlife. In the beginning, when funding was low, he had to use his own money to buy turtle eggs from egg sellers in an effort to give the unborn turtles a chance at life. Luckily, people were quick to help and in one year, he managed to save around 25,000 turtle eggs.
Similar to Cherating Turtle Sanctuary, RDTH collects eggs from the beach and incubates them in a safe space. They also organize turtle-releasing and turtle-watching programs that allow the public to get closer to these animals in a supervised setting. On top of that, the hatchery regularly takes in volunteers and interns from local universities. The dormitory where they stay at was built by Pak Su himself.
UPDATE: Three months after our visit, I learned that Pak Su had passed away. The hatchery is now run by his two children.
Releasing the Turtles into the Sea
We reached the hatchery at 5.15 pm. The turtle-releasing program started at 5. I was already preparing myself to get disappointed again, but the staff kindly let us participate despite our late arrival.
The fee was RM20 per person. However, it should be noted that this is no guarantee that you will get a turtle to release. It will depend on the number of visitors vs the number of hatchlings, which you can only find out later. If there are not enough turtles for everyone, you might have to share.
Since we had missed the briefing, we went straight to the hatchery where the participants had gathered to watch newly hatched babies emerge from their nest. The volunteers and interns at the hatchery were very accommodating. They even offered to help us take pictures and videos of the turtles, since we were only allowed to watch from afar.
Then, all of us headed to the beach and — as per the volunteers’ instruction — formed a line 5 meters away from the shoreline. The turtles have to be released from this distance (or more) to provide them with the exercise they need. This will help them build enough muscle strength to survive in the rough seas.
Another reason for this is to allow the turtles to recognize the beach they were born on. Apparently, turtles will always come back to their birthplace to mate and lay eggs, no matter how many hundreds of miles away they have migrated over the years.
The volunteers then announced that we would be having a turtle race. Everyone had to squat down and — at the count of three — release their turtles. I was not sure whether mine was a boy or a girl. For fear of misgendering it, I decided to give it a unisex name: Alex (short for Alexander or Alexandra).
Unfortunately, Alex’s navigational skill was only about as good as mine. While the other turtles were sprinting towards the water, Alex was turning and turning around like a broken compass. (S)he kept going in the wrong direction (towards me). I’d like to think that maybe (s)he was finding it difficult to say goodbye.
It took a lot of coaxing and cheering before Alex finally went on his/her way. This was Alex looking at me one last time:
And finally, Alex’s first taste of water. I felt like a proud parent.
What a privilege it had been to witness this momentous part of the turtles’ lives. They have a long, long way to go. Studies show that a turtle can take up to 50 years to mature into adulthood and start reproducing.
However, only 5% of turtle hatchlings will actually survive to reach that stage. I hope mine will fall into this small percentage. But it’s a little sad to think that I may no longer be on this Earth when (s)he comes home.
Have you seen a baby turtle up close? Share your experience in the comments below!
Great experience and thank you for sharing!
One fine day i’ll bring my kids here to experience themselves on this. all this while they keep asking /watching about turtle life cycle, hatching n so on..
Yup, it’s educational not only for kids but for adults too. 😄
Tak pernah lagi berpeluang melawat tempat pelepasan anak-anak penyu.Maybe one fine day i will. Btw Alex looks so cute:)
Yes, s/he was so cute! I hope s/he has grown big and strong now. 🙂
That is such a great and a must do activity when we go to Cherating right! Gain lots of knowledge from that too ❤️
Yup, educational doesn’t have to be boring 😉
I have never see a baby turtle up close. I was smiling seeing Alex going to the sea and when s/he waddle in the sea! So cute!
Hehe, yah me too. I was feeling like a proud mama. 😀
Alaaa bestnya dapat pegang penyu macamtu.. cute sangat yang baby tu laaa… kat uma ni ada, tapi kura-kura bukan penyu hehehehehe
Hehehe kura-kura pun cute jugak! 😀
I feel like crying when seeing Alex going. Also when seeing s(he) had a hard time letting you go. Is this the same feeling when a mom going to set her children free? 😭 In the meantime I am proud too
Yah, I had a serious case of empty-nest blues for a while hahaha. But also proud to have been part of that momentous stage of his/her life.
Pernah pergi yang Cherating tu dan pernah lepaskan anak penyu ke laut walau tau angka yg hidup dan akan kembali tu rendah berbanding angka yg akan mati huhu
Rasa macam bittersweet experience kan, bila kita tau yang anak penyu tu mungkin takkan survive pun 🙁
Auwwwww……those baby turtles are so cute and adorable. Yep, they need extra care and love. Bagus lah government and NGO wujudkan sanctuary utk mereka.
Yup, at least can spread awareness about the endangered species and stop people from harming them.
tak pernah lagi join aktiviti macam ni, selalu tengok kat tv je orang lepas anak penyu ke laut..hehe
Mungkin satu hari nanti boleh cuba 🙂
Sad to read and get to know how unprofessional the first turtle sanctuary handle the visitor. The management need to be informed about this.. But the second part of your story was astonished and great! Love it… Will try to experience this at least once ya..
Hmm. Didn’t cross my mind to report it to the management. Maybe I should have. Hopefully they have improved now. Anyway, I do hope you’ll get to visit this place soon!
Woww such a great experiences.i also want to try and hold this cute baby turtles and releasing them.
Yup, they were super cute! It was hard to let them go.
Alahai tak best nyaaa baca pasal dua ketul ladies tu. Ummi ada buat report tak? Orang jauh2 datang nak tengok baby turtle dilepaskan. Dia layan macam tu pulak
Hahaha dua ketul. Tak terfikir pulak nak buat report masa tu. Hmm.. harap2 sekarang ni dah improve la.
Wow.. Bestnya bila dpt tengok anak kura2 dilepaskan..dulu penah bela kura2.. Tapi tak penah tahan…
Yang Wawa bela tu kura2 kot. Yang ni penyu. Rasanya penyu takleh bela kot sebab kira endangered species.
Ada satu lagi tempat santuari penyu tak silap dengan pengkalan balak melaka
Oh ye ke? Saya pun baru tau. Thanks for the info.
awww i would love to go here one day with my kids .. my son really love turtle and he would be ecstatic if he can hold one
Aw, take him. He would be ecstatic!
The best experience in the world ada dapat tengok turtle depan mata dan juga dapat lepaskan anak turtle tu bestnya kita tak pernah tengok dan pegang tengok dalam zoo jer lah atau aquarium satu pengalaman menarik ni kena cuba…
Mesti cuba! Geram je masa pegang anak penyu tu, comel sangat. 😀