Saturday 26 August 2017

Turtle sanctuary and reef experience in Perhentian Islands Malaysia...

Swimming with turtles at Rawa Islands off Perhentian. Photo credit: Owen Goulding

Right now I'm back in Kuala Lumpur – our Asian hub/home – after spending a month in Vietnam. I’m so behind on my travel blogging because we’ve not only been travelling lots but I’ve been working really hard on revisions for my next book. I’ve got a bit of breathing space now - until my editor gets back to me - so I’m keen to get this blog up to date at last and tell you all about the fantastic adventures and places we have travelled to since my last travel blog which was on catching up with friends and family in the UK in April/May 2017. You can read all about our month back in the UK HERE.

At the end of May, we flew from London to return to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After a few days in KL we took a one hour flight to Kota Bharu over to the east coast and then a boat over to the Perhentian Islands. On Perhentian Besar, we stayed at Bubbles Turtle and Reef Experience which is a dive centre and a turtle conservation sanctuary. It was a fantastic experience and valuable research for my next book – especially watching all the newly hatched baby turtles running to the sea!

It's a one hour flight from KL to Kota Bharu - gateway to the Perhentian Islands

The moment I set eyes on the Bubbles Resort I was enchanted. The water in the bay was so clear and the white sand beach looked so natural and unspoiled because the resort buildings were behind the natural line of the trees and surrounding jungle. The first thing I saw in the trees surrounding the open air reception area was a black haired monkey with a long tail and big white eyes – it was the size of a small child. Apparently, these type of monkeys, unlike others I have encountered in Malaysia or Indonesia, are very shy and so for the rest of our stay, it remained elusive. I also saw a lima for the first time ever. It was clinging to a tree above me eating leaves while its baby clung on and peeped down at me. The lima looked to me like a cross between a fox and a bat – and it ‘flew’ from one branch to another in the tree using its loose body skin as wings. Amazing. I knew at once that this was my kind of place - basic in accommodation but clean and friendly and with a real focus on the beach and the environment.

Arial view of Bubbles Resort on Perhentian Island
Arriving by boat

Bubbles Resort is set up to give priority to the turtles who use its beach to lay eggs and guests are briefed on how to be ‘turtle friendly’ – no white lights on the beach from 7pm  at night – no walking down the beach past the dive centre on the resort perimeter after 8.30pm. And, after 8.30pm, the common areas of the resort are lit with red light which won’t bother the turtles. This is because man-made white light confuses them as they use the white light of the moon to navigate to the beach to lay their eggs. Nesting turtles are instinctively careful about where they lay their eggs. Some will come ashore and dig several pits before choosing the ‘perfect’ place to lay. Some, dissatisfied with the site, will abandon laying their eggs and try again another night.

Interestingly, a turtle can live to up to around 80 years old and doesn’t reach reproductive maturity until it is around 30 years old and it will come back to the beach it was born to lay its own eggs. It will come to the beach over the season three to five times to lay with a period of several days between lays. Then, as the process takes so much energy, the turtle will rest for a couple of years before going back to the same beach to lay for another season. She will lay over 100 eggs each time. Each one is the size of a pingpong ball. It is soft and it feels papery and quite weighty in the hand.

After finding a spot high up on the beach above the tide line, the turtle will begin to dig with her front flippers, thrashing about until she is in a deep pit. Once she feels she is below the natural line of sand she will lay her eggs in a chamber within the pit. Once she starts to lay she enters into a trance-like state and cannot stop laying until she has finished. She then spends a considerable time burying them until, quite exhausted, she drags her considerable weight across the beach and back into the sea.

At Bubbles, every beach hut has a sign on its door the shape of a turtle with ‘yes’ on one side and ‘no’ on the other. This is for guests to be able to indicate to the beach patrol staff at the sanctuary whether or not they want to be alerted to any turtles coming ashore under the light of the moon. Of course, I had mine set to ‘yes’!

My 'YES' to being alerted to any turtles coming ashore under the light of the moon!

Throughout the week, I was SO lucky to see to see a really huge female green turtle lay her eggs on the beach and to sit and wait quietly with her until she was ready to return to the sea in the early hours of the morning. A truly magical and memorable experience that I'll never ever forget. Also, I got to see not just one but TWO nests hatch at the sanctuary and to watch the 149 baby turtles I saw born run from the beach into the sea. Check out this cute video!

I learned so much about the work involved in running a turtle sanctuary on this tiny island off Malaysia. The staff and the volunteers patrol the beach every night to watch out for and deter egg poachers as turtle eggs are sold as a delicacy here in Malaysia. Sometimes staff will simply monitor and guard the nest and count the days of incubation until it is ready to hatch (around 60 days) or, if they think the nest might be at risk from vermin or from the incoming tides, they will painstakingly remove all the eggs and transfer them very carefully to their hatchery. It was in the hatchery that I saw the two nests hatch.

The turtle egg hatchery area

The empty nest from which the babies climbed out

Turtle sanctuary staff Holly and James very carefully transferring eggs to the hatchery

While I was busy at the turtle sanctuary, Trav was diving, and when I wasn’t monitoring turtles on the beach I was out snorkelling with turtles with my new friend Sally and our island guide, Janet. We took a boat out to explore some small uninhabited islands with the most gorgeous beaches and clear warm waters and coral reefs teeming with fish and turtles. Some of the best snorkelling ever because I got to swim with turtles too!

Off snorkelling with turtles with my new friend Sally

Looking down through clear water at all the fish!
Look at the fish in the water..!

The stunning Perhentian islands - warm clear waters and white sand beaches...
My mermaid pose!

Deserted beaches in paradise...

While I was out snorkelling or at the turtle sanctuary, Trav was happy diving.

Trav at Bubbles Dive Centre

I absolutely loved every minute here on Perhentian Besar. We made lovely new friendships with the sanctuary staff and the dive centre staff – special thanks to Holly, James, and Jorges. I also made a new friendship with another guest, Sally, a lovely Canadian lady living in Kuala Lumpur, with whom I made arrangements to meet up with in KL the following week for a night out and a meal in the city.

In my next post, I’ll be back in KL – where we stayed a week longer than expected because, thanks to a chat and advice from Sally about suddenly appearing moles (the ones that grow on your skin not the little garden rodents) I ended up seeing a skin specialist at a KL hospital and then having minor surgery and a mole biopsy!

All of that very soon here on the blog - as I endeavour to catch up with our travel and adventures over the past few months to date.

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Love, Janice xx