It was the season for the green sea turtles to lay their eggs and for the little ones to start their quest for survival in the deep blue sea. Eggs were hatching and little baby turtles crawled up through the sand.
Along the coast of Terengganu, Malaysia, many green sea turtles come onto shore to lay their eggs during the months of June, July and August. In order to protect these eggs, rangers collect them and burry them in sand in special cages. This precaution is necessary to protect these turtles from extinction here on the Malaysian East Coast as development is a big threat as well as people who collect the eggs to sell and eat. Once the eggs hatch the baby turtles are released into the sea where they have to fend for themselves.
On an August evening in Malaysia
On this August evening we were lucky enough to be a part of this special moment. Sham, a smily, talkative Malaysian men who cares greatly for the environment, took us with. We stepped into his 32 year old Mercedes and drove north along the coast from Cherating. About 10 minutes later we pulled up by the side of the road and got out of the car. Right next to the beach under the shade of some trees were several big cages filled with sand. In the sand were plastic rings and signs. Sham talked to the two Malaysian rangers who were there and they went into one of the cages while we waited outside. They carefully poked the sand in each plastic ring and after a few minutes beckoned us to enter the cage. They had found a nest that had hatched and the babies were ready to swim.
Carefully they scooped some of the sand out of the ring and moments later we saw movement. One, two, then tens of little grey creatures started moving frantically. I was told to take them out of the sand one by one, count them and put them in a basket. And so it went, 74 babies in total. Although small, they had a lot of power and squirmed and flapped to get away. Once I had placed them all carefully in the basket we had to wait. There were sea eagles flying in the vicinity, ready for dinner.
Baby turtles on a mission
Once the coast was clear, or rather, the sky, we walked onto the beach and kneeled down. It was time. We were a few metres from the water that was slowly lapping onto the sand. It was an overcast evening and the light was soft and the air warm. One by one we put the little ones on the sand and watched them instinctively hurry towards the sea. A group of locals had arrived to join us and release babies from two more nests that had hatched. Then the eagles returned and we stopped releasing the turtles. Everybody anxiously watched as the birds hunted for the baby turtles that had just made it to the water.
Finally the birds left for another hunting spot and we set about to quickly release the baby turtles that were left in our buckets. Once the turtles had all made it to the sea everybody applauded and wished them well and we were all happy and excited to have been part of this special moment together.