Friday, May 9, 2008

Sea Turtle Research Unit

SEATRU is an acronym for Sea Turtle Research Unit and it was created in the mid 80s with the specific goal of research on Sea Turtles. In 1993, SEATRU commenced conservation and research operations on Chagar Hutang, a roughly 350 m long beach north of Redang Island. Chagar Hutang plays a significant part in Malaysian Sea Turtle conservation as it represents the bulk of the green turtle nesting population in peninsular Malaysia. During the economic downturn in the late 80s (87/88) corporate sponsorship was scarce and thus was born the Sea Turtle Outreach Program (STOP) who's primary goal was to educate the public about sea turtles and in the process, provide means for the general public to adopt nests and turtles as well as participate as volunteers on the island, specifically on Chagar Hutang (CH). Since then, SEATRU's role have increased to encompass River Terrapin conservation and the name was subsequently changed to Centre for Turtle Research and Conservation (CTReC).

Sea turtle conservation is not unique to SEATRU as the fisheries department and WWF also has other projects such as in Malacca, Perak and also on other beaches on Terengganu. One significant difference is that SEATRU practices in-situ incubation, meaning the eggs are left where they are laid. This is made easier by the fact that CH is gazetted as a conservation site and is off limits to the public. In Perak & Malacca the nests are relocated to a hatchery nearby. Thus increasing irregularities and increase risk of damaging the eggs especially during relocation (But more about this later).

Sea Turtle Conservation work was not always the same as it was today. In the past, collection of sea turtle eggs was part and parcel of the fishermen's lives and most importantly, there was nothing to prevent collection of the eggs. As such, up till 2003, villagers were collecting the eggs for sale and consumption. To be fair, it's hard to condemn the activity as it supplements the income of the fishermen. In other parts of the world, Mexico for example, apart from educating the public the authorities also assisted the fishermen to look for other sources of income such as eco-tourism and so on therefore reducing the reliance on egg collections. Anyway, due to this the primary means that SEATRU had of conserving the green turtle population was to buy the eggs from the villagers and this was not cheap. Each nest normally costs between RM 100 - RM 200 depending on the clutch and SEATRU would spend hundreds of thousands each year on the buyback.

However, a major breakthrough was made in 2004 when the local government announced the establishment of turtle sanctuaries on all major nesting beaches on Redang. This included Chagar Hutang, Ma' Daerah and Ma' Kepit. The latter 2 are under the purview of the Fisheries Department and are smaller compared to CH. Since then fishermen are no longer allowed to collect the eggs. As such, things were pretty much different when I first volunteered in 2003 compared to my 2nd time onwards. With the reduced expenditure in buying the nests, SEATRU was then able to improve the facilities on CH such as new quarters to replace the decaying ones, toilets, solar power.

Pre-2006 Toilets... :-) These have since been replaced so don't worry.

Pre-2006 Bathroom. Yes... They've also been replaced... :-)

Pre-2006 Quarters. Yes Yes Yes... New Quarters now... Balinese style... :-)

Told you... Spanking new volunteer quarters as at 2006. The male volunteer quarters are adjacent to the female ones... Girls... whisper softly cos' we can hear what you are saying... :-)

New Solar Panels. But don't expect TV or Astro... These are mainly for lighting and necessary equipment.

New Staff Quarters. For those of you who've been there prior to 2006, these quarters stand where the volunteer quarters and kitchen used to be.

The dining area and kitchen with the office in the background

Alright, that pretty much covers the program... but how do you volunteer? Well, you have to register. Nesting season starts early March till end October so registration normally opens on the CTReC Web site in February and you have to be fast... and I do mean FAST cos' the slots sell like hot cakes!!

So... for those of you who are interested, do check out the Web site next year... :-)

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