Lang Tengah Turtle Watch
On the 22nd of September Sgt Louise Muzzlewhite arrived at Lang Tengah Island, Malaysia, to volunteer with the Lang Tengah Turtle Watch charity for a week. The charity aims to safeguard the nesting turtle population whilst providing an educational and interactive experience for visitors.
The volunteer camp was situated in the jungle, behind Turtle Bay beach. It had a kitchen, a well (which we gathered all our water from for cooking, cleaning and washing clothes) and a sleeping area. The sleeping area consisted of camp cots (which looked surprisingly familiar), mosquito nets and a roof providing shelter alongside canvas sides that could be rolled down in the event of a storm. Thankfully those canvas sides were only needed a couple of times during my stay! We shared the camp with lizards, hermit crabs and spiders. I didn’t see any other creatures of note, though I’m sure they were waiting for us all to go to sleep. Food at camp was a joint effort with all of us taking it in turns to cook for each other…..my hope was just not to poison anyone!
The turtles that come to Lang Tengah are the Hawksbill and the Green. Hawksbills are critically endangered and Green turtles are endangered. Hawksbill turtles come to the beach, dig egg chambers and then disappear. Green turtles take up to 40 minutes to lay a body pit, if happy they dig an egg chamber, lay and disappear. If not happy they dig another body pit and keep going until satisfied. One turtle dug a body pit four times, wasn’t happy and so went back to the sea without laying. In my week I got to see each species, though the one Hawksbill I saw had no back left flipper so it took her longer to lay but we were all very pleased that she managed in the end.
Volunteers carry out nest checks every morning at 11:30 and patrol the two beaches at night between 21:00- 06:00, ensuring poachers do not steal eggs. Details are logged concerning how many eggs there are, which turtles have been seen etc. Informative talks are also given to any visitors from the nearby hotels that come to witness nest checks.
Turtle bay beach is protected to prevent poachers stealing from it; however, the other beach that the turtles used to lay on the island was not. Therefore if on our night patrols we happened upon a turtle about to lay we would wait patiently for her to do so and then move all the eggs, up to 100 of them, to Turtle Bay and re-bury them. At night everyone was required to use red torches, as bright white lights could easily scare the turtles and prevent them coming to lay their eggs.
Nest checks would be done initially 45 days after the eggs were laid and then at regular intervals afterwards. We would take it in turns to dig down through an arm length worth of sand until we reached the eggs, or hatchlings. If it was eggs, we would check them for signs of fungus, termite or crab attacks. If many had been attacked the whole nest would be dug up and re-planted. Unfortunately, one day, 14 eggs from a nest had been destroyed, a sad sight indeed. If we happened upon hatchlings we would check that they were developing nicely and if it looked like they were about to make a break for the sea we would quickly re-bury them. Burying them alive felt very wrong; however, should they hatch during the daytime the sharks would be waiting to attack and so they had a better chance of survival if they could just hold out until night time. With only 1/10,000 surviving, we wished to increase their chances as much as possible.
On my first day I got to hold a hatchling in the morning and later that night I got to see a nest of 78 make a break for the sea. The time they take to get from the nest to the sea is very important, it gives them an affiliation with that particular beach and it is the same beach they themselves will lay eggs on in years to come. Everyone felt joy watching the turtles run for the ocean. On my night patrol of the other beach I got to see a mother dig a body pit and lay her eggs.
In between morning and night checks there was time for snorkelling in the clear blue sea surrounding the island; there was amazing coral and beautiful coloured fish everywhere. I was not particularly enamoured with the sea wasps or jellyfish; however, the chance to see a blue spotted stingray and lots of ‘Nemos’ in their anemone made up for it.
My week there was short but sweet. I was very lucky to have witnessed the sea turtles hatching and laying. I definitely hope to return in the future. It is a great conservation project, just 3 years old, and requires volunteers from March to October each year.
If you would like to help please contact via: http://langtengahturtlewatch.org/ or their Facebook Page.