I volunteered in the Juara Turtle Project for a month in June 2011. Every morning and evening we would give a 45 minutes long 'Turtle Talk' to interested tourists, followed by a tour of the hatchery and a chance to meet Jo - the blind Gree turtle that JTP have been taking care of since 2006.
The talk covers basic information about sea turtles, their conservation status around Tioman island and around the world in general and the goals and operations of JTP. We took turns to give the talk and everyone would say it a little differently, in his or her own way. After coming back home, I decided to write down how I used to present it. Thanks to Charles Fisher for giving me the permission to put it in my blog as well as providing with some much needed documents to use as reference. It should be noted that this turtle talk is always changing with every presenter and being edited periodically. Also, the information presented about sea turtles is no where near exhaustive. Any interested reader is advised consulting other sources.
Hello everyone, welcome to Juara Turtle Project. We are a privately owned and funded sea turtle conservation effort in this island. We are not a zoo, we do not and cannot entertain guest all day. Besides the usual tasks related to conservation, running this station itself is a lot of work. That's why we open up to visitors twice everyday at 11:00AM and 4:00PM. Thank you again for joinig us today hope you will enjoy the 'Turtle Talk'.
Sea turtles are one of the most ancient animals living on this planet. They have been around for more than a hundred million years, since the time of the dinosaurs. In this long time they have changed very little because they are very well adapted to their natural environment.
Sea turtles are marine animals, they live in the ocean. But they breathe air, not like fish. So they need to come up for air. Also, unlike land turtles, they cannot retreat their head and limbs inside the shell and they have flippers instead of feet.
Here we can see the life cycle of sea turtles. Mother turtle comes on the beach to lay eggs. It takes about two months for the eggs to hatch. Once the hatchlings come out, they head straight towards the sea. In the sea, they will be carried away by ocean currents in to deep open waters where they will live their juvenile years. Traditionally this part of their life, the pelagic stage, was called lost years because people did not know where they disappear after birth. Once they grow big, they come to the feeding grounds close to coastal areas. When turtles reach sexual maturity, they will go to the breeding grounds during breading season. These animals are great swimmers and they migrate long distances. Their feeding and breeding grounds are often thousand kilometers apart. They don't form pairs, so they will meet their mates by chance. Once a female turtle is ready to lay eggs, she will climb up the same beach where she was born, called natal beach, to lay eggs. A mature female can nest up to nine times in a single breeding season. Interestingly enough, the male sea turtle never comes back to land.
There are seven different species of sea turtles found all over the world.
- Kemp's Ridley Turtle
- Olive Ridley Turtle
- Hawksbill Turtle
- Green Turtle
- Leatherback Turtle
- Flatback Turtle
- Loggerhead Turtle
We used to have 4 species of turtles nesting in this island, but now we have only 2 species left. Would anyone like to take a guess which are the two kind of turtles we still have on this island ?
At this point the audience are asked to take a guess to make it feel interactive. If there are children present, which was often the case, it draws their attention.
Well, we have Greens and Hawksbills nesting in this island. We used to have Leatherbacks and Olive Ridleys too, but nobody has seen any of those two kinds coming to this island in last 15 years. We have lost 50% of biodiversity in sea turtle population from this island in less than two decades.
This is actually just a small part of the big picture. For last two hundred years, these animals have faced rapid population decline due to the changes we have brought to the enviroment through widespread industrialization and expansion. Naturally, 1 in 1000 sea turtle hatchling's survive till reaching reproductive age. But considering the human intervention, this number becomes 1 in 10000. So we are responsible for 90% of turtle death. It's us - the people who are responsible for their decline. If we are the problem, we can be the solution too. Turtles were doing just fine before humans started to mess with the environment, we believe turtles will do fine again if we leave them alone before it's too late. As conservationists, This is the awareness that we try to spread among local people as well as tourists coming to the island.
(to be continued ...)