The East Coast is not the only place to catch sight of turtle hatchlings, as Alan Teh Leam Seng learns
I COULD not believe my eyes. Is that a turtle I see a little distance in front of me. Can it be true that turtles have returned to Penang?
Then I recall reports made more than a century ago about the abundance of these creatures nesting on the beaches of Penang.
It is still quite dark in the early morning and the sun is just about to peep out in the horizon. When I walk closer to the “turtle” I realise that it is actually a statue to indicate the Turtle Eco-Centre nearby.
But as the day is still early, I make plans to return later in the morning.
TURTLE INFORMATION CENTRE
After breakfast at The Golden Sands Resort, I head back to the Turtle Eco-Centre, which is an information centre sandwiched in between The Golden Sands Resort and Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa in Batu Ferringhi.
The centre is spacious and presents information in a very easy to read and fluid manner with catchy graphics including charts to show the marked increase in turtle landings in Penang from 2000 to the present.
The centre is the brainchild of The Golden Sands Resort communications director Suleiman Tunku Abdul Rahman. It highlights the Fisheries Department’s turtle conservation efforts at Pantai Kerachut within the Penang National Park, which is less than 10 minutes’ drive from the resort. There is a Turtle Conservation Centre at Pantai Kerachut which is managed by the Fisheries Department.
“The Turtle Eco-Centre is for our guests to learn more about turtle conservation through informative and interactive displays. We also arrange excursions to the Penang National Park and also Pantai Kerachut,” says Suleiman.
The resort management offers guided jungle walk on Monday and Thursday, to the Penang National Park, including a stop at the conservation centre. Those interested must register a day before the trip.
Priced at RM38 nett per person, the package includes a guide, return transport to Teluk Bahang village and bottled mineral water. Additional charges apply if guests want to return to the resort by boat.
According to Suleiman, both Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa and Golden Sands Resort are working closely with the Fisheries Department to raise funds to buy turtle tracking devices for the Turtle Conservation Centre.
“The equipment is crucial in determining the turtles’ nesting habits and frequency, population sizes, growth rate and choice of nesting sites,” he says. “Our staff and resort guests regularly visit the conservation centre to help in the sand replacement exercise.”
Sand replacement is vital to ensure a high hatching rate. This manual task has to be done by hand as heavy machinery produce toxic exhaust fumes and the loud engine noise scares the turtles away.
“We are grateful to both resorts for helping us to manually dig out the ‘old’ sand to prevent the spread of virus and bacteria,” says State Fisheries Department deputy director Noraisyah Abu Bakar.
HEADING FOR THE PARK
Wanting to see the young turtle hatchlings, I arrange to visit Pantai Kerachut the next day.
I leave with a guide and soon we are on our way to Teluk Bahang, one of the many designated entrances to the National Park.
Sounds of animals foraging for food in the early morning, break the quiet. After over an hour of walking up and down gentle slopes and climbing over fallen trees that obstruct our path, we arrive at Pantai Kerachut.
At our final descent, we reach a short suspension bridge which allows us to walk across a stream draining into Penang’s only meromictic lake (which has two distinct layers of water — fresh and salt).
The landscape changes significantly after we leave the lake. Next to the forests, hills and steep slopes lies a wide stretch of white sandy beach.
Soon, we reach the Turtle Conservation Centre. Along the way, we notice turtle-inspired signs telling us to be aware of their presence.
At the centre, I learn that Pantai Kerachut has consistently recorded the highest number of turtle landings in Penang.
This nocturnal creature of the deep generally comes to nest at night during high tide. They prefer complete darkness so the centre wardens are especially watchful during moonless nights.
Other common turtle landing sites are Pantai Teluk Kampi and Pantai Teluk Ketapang Kechil, all within the National Park.
The predominant species in Penang is the green turtle or penyu agar which contributes to more than 95 per cent of all recorded landings at the three main turtle landing areas.
Despite the significantly fewer nesting of the olive Ridley turtle or penyu lipas, the Fisheries Department which manages the centre, reports that this rarer species is found to have a more diverse nesting area.
It has been reported to nest at the northern beaches of Tanjung Bungah and Batu Feringghi as well as the southern coast of Teluk Kumbar.
WHERE TO STAY
Those not keen on camping at the Penang National Park camp site can stay in nearby hotels in Batu Ferringhi. Hotels that actively support turtle conservation are Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa (04-888 8888) and Golden Sands Resort (04-886 1911).
HOW TO GET THERE
Penang Island is accessible via the Penang Bridge (toll charges RM7.70, including return) or the ferry service at Butterworth’s Pengkalan Sultan Abdul Halim (RM7). Many tourists who drive prefer the latter as they can enjoy a scenic “cruise” across the narrow channel. To get to the Eco-Centre at Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa and Golden Sands Resort, just follow the street signs leading to Batu Feringghi.
The Penang National Park near Teluk Bahang is 5km from Batu Ferringhi. The Turtle Conservation Centre at Pantai Kerachut is about 1½ hours’ hike away or 30 minutes by boat from the Teluk Bahang fishing village.
Penang National Park
For details on the Turtle Conversation Centre, write to the State Fisheries Department, Jalan Aquarium, 11700 Gelugor, Penang, or call 04-657 2777, fax 04-657 2323 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For details on the Penang National Park, contact the department at Jalan Hassan Abbas, 11050 Teluk Bahang, Penang, or call 04-8813 530, fax 04-8812 016, email email@example.com or visit www.wildlife.com.my .