A Date with Turtles at Tanjong Jara
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A Date with Turtles at Tanjong Jara

A friend, upon finding out that I was heading to Terengganu for turtles again, laughed hysterically for reasons that escaped me.

I get it. Not everyone is as enthusiastic about animals. My friend didn’t know what he was missing out though, as I thought about it a few days later, at ease on a lounger perched over the golden sands of Tanjung Jara Beach. I was saving my energy for a hot date with baby turtles that night. Or officially speaking, the launch of ‘Lang Tengah Turtle Watch at Tanjong Jara Resort’, as this new collaboration is called.

A Date with Turtles at Tanjong Jara
Say hello to my new little friend!

As I fondly remember from my childhood days, Terengganu has always been synonymous with turtles. The name Rantau Abang would spring to mind – a coastal stretch famed for leatherback turtle (penyu belimbing) sightings during the good old days. It is said that during the 1950s, the number of nestings reached over 10,000! It was sad to note that a leatherback last came up here in 2011, and even that one was an unfertilised nesting (the female turtle did not consummate with a male turtle). Various factors contribute to this heart-breaking decline, including fishing activities, marine pollution, as well as the selling and buying of turtle eggs for human consumption.

A Date with Turtles at Tanjong Jara
The newly-built hatchery and conservation unit at Tanjong Jara Resort.

Gone are the heydays of the leatherbacks in Rantau Abang, but there is much hope for the green turtles (penyu agar or penyu hijau) that still come up on the shores of this east coast state in Peninsula Malaysia. For this, Lang Tengah Turtle Watch (LTTW) has established a partnership with the award-winning Tanjong Jara Resort in setting up a turtle hatchery and conservation unit on the YTL Hotels property. Rangers are deployed at night to patrol the beach for nesting turtles. During the day, resort guests are welcomed to unwind, have a look through turtle-related books, or chat with LTTW volunteers on the cosy visitor’s hut with scenic views of the ocean. On the lucky occasions that the turtle hatchlings are ready to embark on their journey, all guests will be invited to see them off.

A Date with Turtles at Tanjong Jara

Those who would like to contribute to this good cause can also pledge donations to adopt a nest, helping to secure turtle eggs that were collected on other beaches from being sold to the marketplace as a delicacy. There are two options, RM300 for a clutch of 50-99 eggs, or RM500 for 100-150 eggs. Each pledge comes with regular email updates with progress reports, photos, as well as an invitation to return to the resort to see the hatchling of the adopted nest.

A Date with Turtles at Tanjong Jara
To date, the collaboration has seen the release of 693 hatchlings from 9 out of the current 24 nests.

On the night of the launch, we were ushered about a hundred metres down the beach, away from bright lights, to see the hatchlings off into the sea. These tiny creatures were as fast as they were cute! There was even a little rebel who had marched towards the edge of the water, but decided nope and started to turn back towards land. Eventually the adorable one did join its friends, but not before relaying such joy to this humble human. When the last of the baby turtles finally swam off, everybody clapped in delight. To us, the event had ended with success but to the newborns, their journey was just beginning. Their migration towards the ocean currents is called a ‘swimming frenzy’, which can take up to a few days. It is followed by the ‘lost years’ whereby their whereabouts will be unknown for a few years. Once they’ve grown to roughly the size of a Macbook, the kid turtles would head to coastal areas to feed and continue to mature.

A Date with Turtles at Tanjong Jara
Selamat jalan, little hatchlings!

This new project looks set to be a wonderful ecosystem for all parties involved. Turtles can nest and hatch, Lang Tengah Turtle Watch gets to expand their noble conservation efforts, Tanjong Jara Resort adds another great facility to its amazing property, and hotel guests can participate in a unique event. Sending those baby green turtles off on an adventure was truly an exquisite experience to behold. And for the friend who laughed, it is my sincerest wish that you get to witness the same magic one day. ♥

GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Kuala Terengganu from Kuala Lumpur. For flight info and lowest fares, visit AirAsia.com.

Irvin enjoys conversations with the trees and the stars. Sometimes they share recipes, sometimes they share jokes.

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