It is a breathtaking experience to witness turtle hatchlings foraging through the sand and emerging from their nests.
The natural instincts and vigor of new life are evident as they race towards the ocean to avoid dehydration or becoming prey for birds, crabs, and other animals.
With only about one in every 1,000 turtles surviving to adulthood, several concerned individuals founded the Lang Tengah Turtle Watch (LTTW) to protect turtle habitats and prevent their extinction.
According to the principal officer of LTTW, Dr. Long Seh Ling, conservation efforts are critical because there have been no recorded nestings of leatherback turtles in Terengganu since 2017, despite Rantau Abang beach recording 10,000 leatherback turtle nests annually in the 1950s.
Terengganu’s icon used to be a leatherback turtle, but now it’s a Nemo because of the loss of turtles.
Dr. Ling comes from a generation where she couldn’t see leatherback turtles, and therefore, it is crucial to preserve their heritage. Losing hawksbill, green, and olive ridley turtles is not an option.
LTTW is a Malaysian turtle conservation organization with project sites in Lang Tengah Island, Tanjong Jara Resort, and Chakar Hutan Beach in Terengganu.
The Lang Tengah Island and Tanjong Jara Resort project sites are home to endangered green turtles and critically endangered hawksbill turtles, as listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The driving force behind LTTW is Hayati Mokhtar, whose land surrounding Turtle Bay on Lang Tengah Island, with pristine landscapes and marine life, has degraded over time.
Hayati Mokhtar’s desire to save the turtles stemmed from the fact that people could collect the eggs for consumption and sale at the time, which led her to take action to preserve the once-pristine landscape of her childhood, according to Long.
LTTW promotes sea turtle collaboration in monitoring, research, conservation, and management.
Their efforts extend to education and public awareness, with a focus on local communities, tourism operators, and tourists.
They emphasize the sustainable viability of their initiatives through community empowerment and education to restore the balance between sea turtles and their delicate habitats.
The seven main initiatives of LTTW include night patrols, turtle monitoring, coral restorations, beach and underwater clean-ups, outreach and training programs, empowering communities and livelihoods, and adoption programs.
The primary strategy for protecting the mostly green turtle population involves nightly patrols by nine former poachers who have joined the LTTW team to monitor the island’s nesting beaches between March and October.
At Chakar Hutan Beach, the LTTW patrols the beach to monitor it, and if they encounter a nesting mother, they collect the eggs and relocate them to the nearby hatchery, according to Long.
So far, they have saved 2,264 nests of endangered green turtles, critically endangered hawksbill turtles, and painted terrapins.
In turtle monitoring, the LTTW team takes care of the eggs for about two months for green turtle eggs and three months for painted terrapin eggs to hatch, ensuring that the hatching success is good.
For hatchlings, most releases occur at night and under red light to minimize disturbance to the turtles from June to October. So far, they have released over 118,000 green and hawksbill turtle hatchlings into the ocean.
The LTTW conducts beach and underwater clean-ups to remove marine debris, restoring the coral reef area, where the turtles feed and take shelter.
Broken coral fragments are grown back in a nursery at Turtle Bay before being outplanted into natural reefs. Since 2018, they have saved and grown 757 corals in the nursery, and 405 corals have been transplanted. By protecting the species, they are also protecting their habitat, Long added.
Long mentioned that LTTW’s outreach programs, particularly their recent project at Chakar Hutan Beach, provide an opportunity to collaborate or engage with local communities as it is a public area.
According to Long, the local people who live there come and learn more about turtles and understand the conservation efforts during the day. Hashim Ismail, a former forest ranger, guards the turtle hatchery at the beach, which has up to 300 green turtle nests per year, to prevent poaching.
He is fondly known as Pok Hashim and stated that the beach is also where hatchlings are released from dusk to dawn, which the public may be able to witness. Turtles will sometimes come and nest at night.
Long mentioned that LTTW has actively purchased turtle eggs from 12 local license holders since 2016 to empower the community and their livelihoods. She added that the public can contribute by adopting a nest, a turtle, or a coral through their official website, which will help ensure that as many hatchlings as possible go out to the ocean.
Long debunked many common misconceptions about the importance of preserving sea turtles, stating that turtles are critical in maintaining ecological balance.
They are both predators and prey, and as a predator, leatherback turtles used to control the jellyfish population. Therefore, when one predator is removed, it affects the balance, she added.
Besides funding, Long emphasized the importance of people’s and stakeholders’ cooperation in preserving sea turtles and their habitats.
LTTW plans to continue funding its initiatives through various means, including adoption programs, turtle tourism activities, paid volunteer programs, and donations.
Besides grants from local sponsors, Long stated that they would also look for funding abroad, especially from the global turtle community.
LTTW intends to participate in more information-sharing, training, and capacity-building activities at the International Sea Turtle Symposium next March.
Long added that the conservation efforts must be done before the species go extinct, and even with the money, it might not be possible to bring back an extinct species.
For its efforts, Lang Tengah Turtle Watch was named one of the ten winners of the Star Golden Hearts Award 2023.
How Many Eggs Does A Sea Turtle Lay?
Semi-aquatic and land turtles typically lay smaller clutches of eggs compared to sea turtles. For instance, the giant Asian softshell turtle, box turtle, map turtle, and snapping turtle lay between 8 to 70, 10 to 12, 8 to 9, and 20 to 40 eggs, respectively, in a clutch.
In contrast, female sea turtles can lay a much larger number of eggs, with reports stating that they can deposit anywhere from 40 to 200 eggs in a clutch, and in rare cases, even more.
This makes the clutch size of marine turtles significantly larger than that of their semi-aquatic and land counterparts.
The clutch size of sea turtle eggs varies by species, as there are seven subspecies of sea turtles, each with unique physical appearances and characteristics.
To identify different sea turtle species, counting their scutes, which are the large scales on their shells, is the easiest trick. Learn more it here, How Many Eggs Does A Sea Turtle Lay?