Juara Turtle Project

The idyllic stretch of sand that borders the east coast of the Tioman Island, Malaysia, boasts sunsets that would draw even the most reluctant of travellers to their sun-kissed shores. But in the heart of this paradise isle lives a team of wildlife rescuers who have more pressing matters than sunset-chasing in the forefront of their minds.

In 2016, I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks assisting with the excellent work taking place at the Juara Turtle Project (JTP), where local people, scientists and volunteers alike are working tirelessly to support the ever dwindling sea turtle population. The success of the JTP, which is now in its 11th year, lies in its understanding that in order for a conservation effort to be sustainable the action taken must balance both the needs of the affected species and the needs of the local people.

One of the greatest threats to sea turtles is poaching, where eggs are taken from a nest and sold on for profit. With this in mind, JTP have turned one of their greatest foes into their strongest asset by reimbursing poachers to continue collecting the eggs but, instead of being sold on and destroyed, these eggs are safely transported to a guarded nest site where they are watched over until hatching. Once the babies have fought their way out from the depths of the sand they are weighed and measured before being freed to tackle their next challenge, the ocean.

The life of a JTP volunteer is not an easy one. Beach patrols must be carried out throughout the night and should you strike gold in the form of a mother laying eggs, you're in for a solid four-hour watch while she parts with her offspring and makes the exhausting migration back to the sea. It's estimated that only 1/1000 turtles survive to adulthood, which can make projects such as these seem like a hopeless endeavour. But, when you've witnessed first-hand the gruelling ritual that a mother turtle will endure for the sake of her offspring, you realise every sleep-deprived, fumbling-in-the-dark, sand-in-your-eyes moment was worth it.