With a stunning view of the South China Sea, a vast, sandy beach and tall trees that frame a picturesque landscape. Ma’ Daerah Turtle Sanctuary sits quietly, far away from civilization.

It was here that in 2017, a remarkable phenomenon occurred – more turtles than in 2014 and 2015 have returned to nest, according to Mohd Firdaus, aged 33 and the head of Rantau Abang Turtle Conservation and Information Centre.

Every year, turtles emerge from the high tides and warm waters of the South China Sea. A vast expanse of sand greets them as they crawl onshore, the perfect place for them to lay their eggs.

In 2017, a total of 3 889 turtles returned to nest. In the years before, lesser numbers were reported. Numbers usually vary every year due to the two year rest turtles take after laying eggs.

“I was so happy to find out there were more coming back,” said Mohd Firdaus.

“I felt at peace knowing the number had increased so significantly compared to the years before,” he added.

Tracking progress in a turtle sanctuary is no overnight task. The growth and nesting cycle of hatchlings is 15 to 20 years, which means that 2017’s baby boom is a clear sign that their efforts from decades ago were finally paying off.

“We felt a sense of hope releasing them, the hope that they will come back,” Mohd Firdaus told us.

He added that an estimated one out of a thousand hatchlings return and manage to lay eggs.

Turtle eggs are kept in and looked after in nests, built by the sanctuary, to ensure the safe hatching of the eggs.

The increase in numbers came at a time when good news was needed most. In Papua Barat, Indonesia where most leatherback turtles lay their eggs, a 78 percent decline between 1984 and 2011 was recorded.

“In terms of the ecosystem, most people are not able to see the positive effects turtles bring,” Mohd Firdaus said. “They help to maintain our source of fish and trim seagrass. Just like cows!” he joked.

“It is important for tourists at the turtle sanctuary to be exposed to conservation efforts and the turtles’ importance to the ecosystem,” he added.

“We brief the tourists here to not litter and we organise clean-ups for the tourists here regularly,”

Foreign and local tourists are welcomed and brought in so they get first hand experience. Ma’ Daerah recruits volunteers who come regularly to help with work, such as digging nests and turtle watching. Volunteers usually come every one to two weeks.

To the aid of conservation efforts, volunteers play a part in keeping the sanctuary running. Ma’ Daerah spends up to one million ringgit a year on its turtle conservation efforts, according to Mohd Faizal.

“We’re funded mostly by NGOs such as WWF, oil company, BP, the state government and our guests,” he said. Despite this, he brings up that the sanctuary still needs money for their nests and to upgrade the facilities.

With the endangerment of the turtle species on the rise, Mohd Firdaus expressed his concerns. “Turtles may encounter and consume rubbish due to littering – the worst being plastic, which ultimately results in the death of turtles.”

“They will mistaken the plastic for jellyfish and will choke on them, resulting in the deaths,” he explained.

Hope is still in the balance, however. Mohd Firdaus fervently hopes the younger generation does not disturb and destroy the turtles’ habitats, nor eat them or their eggs. Still looking concerned, he advised the younger generation to start helping out at the turtle sanctuary more often.

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