Juara Turtle Project - Pulau Tioman, Pahang Malaysia
- Sea Turtle Conservation -
What we do here is try to help the sea turtle population on Tioman Island, which we think will mainly be achieved by enforced environmental laws, positive direction from the government, general respect and consideration for the natural environment/ eco-systems, and the general realization that natural areas are an economic asset and conservation is an investment financially, as well as environmentally. On site we pitch in by protecting the eggs in a hatchery until the baby
turtles hatch. We have tried leaving eggs on the beach but people have taken them. We also educate people that come here to be more aware about environmental consideration, and we loby
for stronger environmental laws.
- Not A Zoo -
This is not a zoo. We try to interfere as little as possible in the turtle's natural life-cycle, therefore
we do not keep baby turtles. Any turtles that are kept here are being rehabillitated or cannot survive in the wild. The importance of spreading awareness about evironmental threats is a major aspect of the project. People must achieve a sustainable relationship with nature or else we watch it disappear.
When visitors come here it is a very small apreciation of what goes on here, if they just want to see a turtle and leave. That type of visit is of no value to the turtles and should never happen. Visitors should always be told about what the problem is; lack of environmental consideration, from people.
- Extinction -
Sea turtles are expected to be extinct in the next 50 years at the current rate of population decline. Modern sea turtles have lived on Earth for the last 110 Million Years, but in the last 200 years have begun to die off at an increasing rate. Widespread human industrialization has been impacting the planet as well in the last 200 years, directly contributing to the extinction of many animal and plant species. Knowledge of the problems humans are causing for other species and reaction to these problems with compromise and strategy is essential to life thriving on Earth. Most likely they will go extinct quite soon, maybe with exception to a few small populations that will hold out for a bit.
So awareness is very important.
- Habitat Protection -
Habitat protection is also an important consideration when doing conservation work. If there is not suitable habitat, there is no reason to sustain the species that live there. If you dont protect the home for the turtles, there is no reason to protect the eggs or turtles.
One way JTP is fighting for the protection of sea turtle nesting grounds is we have petitioned for several beaches on Tioman, Sri Buat and Tulai islands to be sanctioned. This means there would only be regulated development allowed on these beaches. These appeals were made with help from TAT, or friends in the Pahang State Royal Family. They would put regulations on these beaches for development, limiting it or having regulations like low/ no lighting, buffer zone of no development near the beach, or just no development.
Enforcement of Marine Park's laws is another way of protecting the marine environment. Marine Parks is a federal agency that has set regulations for the 2 nautical miles surrounding Tioman and other marine parks. These rules include no fishing, no collecting of corals or other natural items found in the ocean, and restrictions on marine recreation. The rules are not well enforced, for example you can rent fishing equipment at many jetties on Tioman.
- Awareness -
Awareness of environmental threats and marine park regulations is the first and most important part of being a responsible tourist and human being. Knowing that what you do that impacts the planet we call home is important. As well, knowing that humans are not the only ones needing this space to live. Millions upon millions of beautiful life forms share this planet. Having consideration and respect for nature is a priority.
At Juara Turtle Project, we are working to spread awareness to the residents of Juara, the primary school students, international school students, volunteers, visitors and the future generation. The effects of having an aware population would be very dramatic for nature's well being. Many people have no idea about environmental consideration.
- Species of Turtles -
There are seven types of turtles in the world. 4 types are native to Malaysia: the Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. On Tioman, it has been 15-20 years since the Leatherback or Olive Ridley turtles have nested here, so they are considered extinct from this area.
The Green sea turtle is now the most common type of sea turtle in the world as well as on Tioman Island. Green turtles have a smooth shell, called the carapace and vary in color from grey, brown or black on top and a lighter yellow color on their underside, called the plastron. Adult Green sea turtles feed on Algae and Sea grass mostly, while the babies eat small surface animals and plants.
The Hawksbill sea turtle is the only other type of sea turtle that is still nesting on Tioman. Hawksbills are distinguished by their prominent hooked beak (like a hawk, or eagle) and their over-lapping scutes on the carapace. Hawksbills are amber colored with black or brown accents and a white or yellow plastron.
The largest and most critically endangered Sea turtle is the Leatherback. Leatherback Sea Turtles have been recorded diving 1200 meters deep. The only type of sea turtle that is not currently listed
on the endangered species list is the Flatback sea turtle, native only to Australia.
- Life Cycle -
A sea turtle's life can be very long but is also very strenuous. The eggs will incubate for between 50 and 70 days before hatching (1.5 months). In the nest,when a significant number of baby turtles
have hatched, the baby turtles will work together to dig up through the sand to reach the surface.
The eggs are at risk to animals, here mainly monitor lizards, and of course people. At the surface turtles are at risk to predatation from crabs, lizards, and birds, while in other parts of the world wild dogs, pigs and racoons threaten the baby turtle's lives. On their way to the sea, the hatchlings use visual clues to find the ocean, like light. In any natural setting, there is more light over the ocean than there is over land, but in developed areas, boats, resorts and restaurants invade with lights brighter than the sky. This distracts the hatchlings from the ocean, leading them away from the water and exposes them to dehydration, animal predators, and death on land.
When the hatchlings reach the ocean they will swim for days and end up in ocean currents. They find food sources along the way, such as shrimp and crab larvae, but this food isn't essential because they have back up energy for up to two weeks from the yolk sac which is absorbed when inside the egg. Sharks, large fish, and sea birds are natural predators for the new born turtles as they swim away from shore. Rubbish, like cigarrete butts, in the ocean from human waste looks like food to the turtles and will kill the babies if they eat it. Rubbish is, sadly, very abundant in the ocean and many marine creatures are affected negativly by it. The turtles will swim and float along with ocean currents until the currents cross at the feeding grounds. This is where the young turtles find islands of sea grass and plants to hide inside from natural predators while they forage for insects, snails, fish larvae and small crabs.
Turtles in open water will migrate with ocean currents, some hiding with seaweed and others exposed, until they have grown to a size or age at which they return to coastal waters, usually between 5 and 10 years or when the shell has reached the size of a dinner plate.. When sea turtles find reefs close to the coast, their feeding habits are more adult like, meaning less intake and a change in diet. Each type of turtle has a specific common food, jelly fish for Leatherback, sea grass for Green, coral sponge for Hawksbill.
Turtles take aup a preffered feeding area, a home feeding ground, where they spend most of their time and return to the same feeding ground after nesting later in life, year after year. Living near the coasts again, the turtles are fairly safe from natural predators beacuase of their size, but this is when the threat of crossing paths with human dangers is more likely. Sea Turtles are killed on purpose, and by accident. When turtles surface for air, they are exposed to boats, propellers, barges, and jet ski's which can cause fatal collisions for the turtles. Some fishermen use long lines for fishing, which can hook them, or tangle the turtles limbs causing amputation, or often drown them. Turtles are caught to be eaten or to use their shell to make hair combs, buttons or oil. will be carelessly caught by fishing nets, drowning them because they must surface to breathe.
Rubbish is still and even more of a concern for the adolescent turtles because now they are large enough to eat plastic bags that look like a favorite meal, jellyfish. If a turtle eats rubbish it can choke, or the rubbish will create intestianal blockage which will also cause the turtle to die. Consideration and care are needed to try and prevent creating hazards for turtles and other animals things etc.
Depending on the species of turtle, reproductive maturity is anywhere from 5-35 years of age. This
is a large reason why the Sea Turtles are having trouble, because it takes so long for them to be reproductive. The Green sea turtle matures between 25 and 35 years of age, and this is when the females can begin to lay eggs. First, the turtles leave their home feeding grounds and begin their migration back to their mating grounds, which is near to the beach where they were born. A turtle's birth beach is the same beach the it will lay it's own eggs on.
The eggs are fertilized by the males in the ocean. The female emerges from the ocean to lay eggs in the sand. The beach where the nesting turtles were born was a suitable place for the eggs to hatch, but after 35 years the beach may have changed. Hotels, boats, concrete, and people could now be on the beaches where the turtles lay their eggs. Often, a turtle will come ashore, search for a place to lay eggs, find a building or concrete pathway there and turn around and return to the sea. The sea turtles will continue to try to find suitable places to lay their eggs the same night or the following nights, but if they are unsuccessful they will abort the eggs into the ocean.
On beaches that are suitable for laying eggs the turtles will approach the the beach, usually at night, and crawl up close to the vegetation line. She will then clear a space with her front flippers, then dig a big pit, anywhere from a few inches deep to a half a meter deep as the green sea turtles do. Inside the pit, the nesting female digs the egg hole with her back flippers. This is a hole about 20cm across and between 50 and 60 cm deep dug with the hind flippers. She lays the eggs into the hole, then covers the nest using the back flippers again. Green Turtles lay 120 eggs while Hawksbill can lay 160 on average. When the hole is covered she flips sand with her front flippers onto the entire pit she has dug to camouflage the nest. She then returns to the sea, ready to mate again to lay more eggs. A female can nest up to eight times in one year, but only nests one year out of every four (on average)
- Hatchery -
The way we try to protect turtle eggs is by bringing them to an enclosed hatchery until the baby turtles hatch. This is not ideal, it is much better to leave the eggs in place where they were laid, but
that is not possible here now. Still a hatchery should always be viewed as a temporary feature, not a soluntion. It is better to have the entire area protected and not need to take, or hide, the eggs.
At night we monitor Mentawak beach by taking turns walking the entire length of the beach 3 hours before and 3 hours after high tide. We are looking for a nesting turtle so that we can bring the eggs to the hatchery, as well as tag her to know if this turtle returns for it's next breeding season, or for reference to other projects around the world. While monitoring the beach we are also checking the hatchery for baby turtles that may have hatched.
We also collect and protect eggs from 2 more beaches along the East coast of Tioman. Early each morning during the nesting season, between February and October, we check the hatchery for baby turtles, then go by boat at 7am to look for turtle tracks. We do this boat patrol with a juara family that used to have the turtle egg collection permit. Now we employ them for their skills.
If there are fresh tracks on the beach we will go to where the turtle has dug a pit and possibly laid eggs. To find the nest, we first examine the area to find the general egg location, then a metal rod is poked into the sand, feeling for a soft area in the sand. The smell of turtle eggs can also be detected from the end of the rod.
Once the eggs are located, the sand is dug away to expose the nest. The eggs are carefully removed, being careful not to rotate them. If they get rotated it will likely kill the already developing embryo, also it is important to collect the eggs soon after they are laid for the same reason. They are counted and placed in a poly-styrine with the same orientation as they were laid in the nest.
The eggs are brought to the hatchery and two secondary nests are dug. The nests will be the same depth as the original nest and half of the eggs will be placed inside each one, again maintaining the same orientation. The nests are then covered with sand and a basket is placed around the hole, a few inches into the sand. The basket is for containing the baby turtles when they emerge. This keeps them from wandering loose in the hatchery, makes it easy to count them and to know which beach they need to go back to for release. The nest are set to mimic the nests natural location by depth of eggs, and amount of shade.
The eggs are buried at the specific depth the turtle laid them in for the correct temperature for incubation. This is usually between 50 and 60cm and the temperature must be between 28 and 31 degrees Celsius. The temperature at which the egg is incubated also determines the gender of the turtle. The eggs at the bottom of the nest, also the cooler temperature will produce males, while the warmer temperature will produce females. To monitor the temperature of the sand in the hatchery a temperature logger is buried. We tell the kids- “cool dudes, and hot chicks”
-Location of Hatchery-
The hatchery is moved every year so that the nests are in fresh sand. Bacteria and maggots can grow in the old nests which would then contaminate the eggs that are incubating. Also after September, any new nests must be nested further from the ocean to protect them from monsoon waves in November.
The sea turtle eggs will incubate for 7-8 weeks, (1.5 months). Many will hatch at the same time and crawl together upwards, although it is not uncommon for one or two turtles to hatch before or after a group of them hatch. We check the hatchery frequently so that the baby turtles are not spending much time inside the basket outside. We put the turtles into a poly-styrine box with a wet cloth at the bottom and keep them in the dark so that they will sleep and conserve their energy. Immediately we return the baby turtles to the beach where their eggs came from and release them. The same beach is important to maintain the natural situation, if turtles nest at that beach still it is for a reason and we dont want to manipulate them. We want to release the turtles as soon as possible so that their energy is used to swim, and it is their instinct to swim when first born so it is important that they get the chance to. We do not keep the baby turtles because less human interference is better, Turtles can survive just fine without human “help” or interference, what they need is for beapole to leave them alone with more space to live. The turtles have extra energy when they are born, used for swimming out to open water, away from land and natural predators, such as birds and sharks. If you keep the turtles their wasting their energy making them slower and more vulnerable when they are released.
Ten days after the last turtle has hatched, we excavate the nest. We dig out the eggs shells to count how many are empty to calculate a hatchling success rate. Last year the green sea turtles had an 85% hatchling success.
Jo is a 5 year old green sea turtle who was born without eyes. The nest Jo came from was brought to the hatchery here to be protected. When it hatched, all of the turtles were brought to the beach or release, but Jo did not go to the ocean, because she cannot see, and was going in circles because of a weak arm. A turtle without eyes will not survive in the ocean or on land. The volunteers at the project kept Jo for people to see as well as for a first-hand education about sea turtles.
Jo has a lot of value in her tank on land. In the wild she would be dead, and would serve a purpose
to the eco-system, but likely in a smaller way than she can on land. We keep her not as a pet, but as a tool to use to help protect more turtles and habitats etc. And we take good care of her here, and do treat her as a pet/ member of jtp as well.
Jo is not yet full grown. When a green sea turtle reaches full grown, at 30 years it can be as long as 1.5 meters and weight 150 kilo. Probably she will never mate, there is no real point in it, maybe her insticts are messed up as well. She will not be getting eye surgery (people as that), our money could be much better spent on bigger issues. We would like to have her sent to a larger and better facility soon as she will be getting much larger. Maybe an aquarium, or the Marine Parks center, if they can provide for her well.
Jo eats fish and vegetables, mostly leafy green vegetables now. We used to feed her all squids and then fish with a bit of vegitable, but now she needs more leaf nutrients (like sea grass) as she gets older.
First there was a governement run hatchery here in Juara, that was mainly a tourist attraction.
They operated on a contract that lasted for five years and ended in 2006. At that time the govt hatchery was located where Riverview Chalets is now located. As the govt was walking out in 2006, John
Amos was just starting to rent the Riverview land, and saw the value in the hatchery and the interest that his major client UWC SEA would have in the turtle project, as they sent many students to Juara each year. The govt (Fisheries Dept) gave John permission to continue the project, even though he had no knowledge on how to do it; but said they would not give him any money to do it.
UWCSEA was interested and since its start, they have been contributing about rm30,000 each year for the project, mainly based on egg collection costs. They now also pay an employee to work at the project as their student coordinator/ facilitator, and helper to the projects operation. The hatchery remained at Riverview for a year, then moved to Lagoon to avoid the tourists, and be closer to the nesting Sea Turtles on Mentawak beach. In 2008, Tom Wuebbens got was working for UWC as a kayak instructor and got involved with the Turtle project as the UWC turtle coordinator position.
That same year,2008, the Royal Family of Pahang state came to Juara and wanted to help support the project. They had wanted to start a project, but when they got to Tioman people told them to go and see John, as he was already doing it. They asked what the project needed and he said- the egg collection permits and sanctioned beaches. That is when we got involved with the Royal Family for the first time. Since then our main contact ahs been Datin Sri Rowena, or Rowena, she is the wife of Tenku Intan, HRH the Sultan's brother.
This is when John and Tom thought it would be ideal to establish the Turtle Project as an independent location. To focus the work, and to create better awareness for the issues of environmental resposibility. This is when Tom called his friend Charlie and he came out to work with the Project.
The new (current) buildings were started in October 2008, and had volunteers staying in them by June 2009. Charlie has stayed at the project since he arrived, Tom returned to the US to complete his degree, returned to the Project, and as of Aug 2011 will be working full-time at UWCSEA in Singapore as an Outdoor Education teacher. John lives at Riverview still and is a driving force behind the Project, also Riverview and Lagoon continue to provide physicall, material, and financial support if nessicary.
The Turtle Project now, at the new location, tries to exist in a sustainable manner, including food gardens and concern for its ins and outs. The Project itself is always under scrutiny as to whether it is providing more positive effects than negative, keep in mind that it IS more beach development and we try to bring more people/ groups here, so we try to manage it in a way that takes appropriate considerations. Conservation is about having consideration and making compromises. For more on JTP, http://www.juaraturtleproject.com/
We had her as an egg in 2006. She was born with no eyes. Blind/ handicapped turtles happen sometimes, but its rare that she lived. Usually blind turtles die within 1-3 months due to other internal issues. She is a Green Sea Turtle. When we tried to release her when she was born, with all her brothers and sisters, she just went in circles instead of toward the ocean, so we took a closer look and saw she had no eyes. We don’t know if girl or boy yet, we have to wait until older like 15yrs, to tell. We feed fish and squids, now also a lot of vegetables. Have to feed by hand and
touch the food to her face for her to bite it. She is older now and needs the vegetable nutrients. She always stays in the water and we are looking to get her into a proper aquarium in Singapore or somewhere else, maybe the Tioman Marine Park center if they can take care of her.
We keep her NOT as a pet, Not as a Zoo, we keep her as a tool; to teach people about other Sea Turtles, and the problems they face. She will die in the wild so she is of no use to the natural breeding population, but she serves a purpose here on land. Also she is treated like a pet and we take good care of her.
Visitors can touch Jo, nicely, no grabbing, just petting and scratching. She is used to people, better
to touch her now and never touch another Sea Turtle.
Mesh walls keep lizards out; babies in, if they get out of their specific nest cage. Also creates visual
barrier. No problems yet with people taking eggs from hatchery. All hatcheries are diff, we use recycled and beach materials for ours as much as possible, it is all that is needed. Most of the work is done by the sand. We split the natural nest into two different hatchery holes, from studies creates 10-15% more babies. Otherwise we keep nest to mimic natural nest location, with shade and depth of nest. Bury at same depth, if found in shade we put in shaded area here and vise versa. There are computer temperature recorders/ loggers in the hatchery, hot and cold, and on the natural nesting beaches so we can keep track of and mimic temperatures. Each nest cage has the nest info on it, the babies come up on their own, mostly together, then we collect them and release them accordingly as soon as possible.
Release from Mentawak at about 6:40AM when there is just enough natural light to counteract the artificial light that would disorient the babies out of the water at night time.
Also we collect eggs from Munjor or Penut Beaches (* point, for visitors benefit *) about a half hour or 6k away from here, every morning at 7am. If there are babies to release from either of those beaches, usually there is good tide at night so we deliver them right away, sometimes the tide is no good or weather is bad so we go early in the morning about 6:30AM when there is enough light that it is not so dangerous to us. Also low tide is no good for the babies at Munjor and Penut because there are so many rocks they would get stuck before the water and get eaten or die of heat exposure.
How to Prepare for JTP
What to know:
Tioman is a semi remote Island, so you will have to be careful and safe while here.
Tioman has one ATM, on the other side of the Island from us so it is not easy to get to on-demand.
We want you to research about Sea Turtle conservation before you come here.
We want you to research to get ideas on what you can do to help the effort here. We want to facilitate and develop your ideas, but it’s good if you come with some realistic ideas on what you can do to help. Looking through photos and resources online; to see what others have done in the past can help a lot.
Take a look through the photos and videos we post online, to see what people do while here.
It is common, so please expect to feel some culture shock for at least a couple days. That is because you are no longer a tourist, but are actually living here. Life is different, and it takes some thought and acclimation.
The project facility and volunteering program is very free and open, free-range. There is lots of work to do, but take your time to get comfortable with the location, materials and methods before jumping into work.
When you arrive we give an orientation that explains most everything about the project and your time here, so listen carefully and please take it seriously so we don’t need to repeat ourselves… like keep the sand outside!
What to bring:
Pack clothes as if you are going camping for an extended period.
Bring outdoors items, kitchen items, garden or shop tools, and can leave them here when you leave!
Bring torch-lights and can donate those as well when you leave, or clothes and towels etc.
If you bring nice clothes, please bring work clothes as well.
Bug nets are not necessary. Strap on sandals, or tennis shoes that can get wet are very useful.
Feel free to bring foods, or candy (like chocolate) to share around, or DVDs and Books.
Bring anything else that you think would be useful, appreciated, and good for Sea Turtle conservation.
We cannot guarantee Sea Turtles! We have been working here a long time and this project is not about seeing turtles. Seeing turtles is awesome and we do it as much as possible without interfering with them.
If you want to easily see turtles- go snorkelling or go to the aquarium. Or you can help here, maybe see a Turtle; and maybe in 30 yrs of hard work and conservation strategy... the natural population will rejuvenate and we can all just go stand on the beach to see more turtles than we can shake a stick at!
We love turtles where they are, and we love to leave them alone. Conservation is about; protecting natures opportunity to live on its own. Conservation has nothing to do with people seeing animals; but seeing animals is great, and we agree is a wonderful side effect of conservation!