This is Alif, a name given by my kids to him just before we sent him overseas. If it’s female, it might come back to this same spot in Cherating in 40 years. And that’s a big ‘might’. Alif’s chance of survival is 1 in 1000, i.e. 0.1%. Once in the sea, all manner of predators will be after him. You’d have to be super smart, strong and lucky to survive.
Despite these odds, Alif could be considered lucky. Many of his peers don’t even get to hatch out of their eggs. Some of these eggs are poached by locals and sold secretively, illegally. Alif is a Penyu Agar, or Green Turtle. This year is a relatively good year for his species – there’s been numerous sightings for the past few months and this is expected to go on till August. Some of Alif’s more distant relatives, like the Leatherback, have just stopped coming to this coast to hatch – whether they’ve just stopped coming here or gone extinct is anybody’s guess.
The life-cycle of sea turtles around the world are remarkably similar. On a beach like Cherating, mama turtle deposits about 100 soft-shelled eggs, about the size and look of ping-pong balls and buries them in the sand with her flippers. She then swims back to the sea, never to see her children ever again, except by chance, I suppose. If the human-poachers or other animals don’t get to the eggs first, little babies, much like Alif, will hatch after about 20 days, typically within minutes of each other. They then run (yes, run!) to the water to begin their amazing race.
Let me digress a little.
The Turtle Sanctuary in Cherating, which is under the purview of the Pahang State government, is tasked to assist in the long-term survivability of turtles that come round to Pahang to lay their eggs. They also want to see to it that these creatures continue returning to these shores year after year. These initiatives include ensuring that the eggs are not stolen, by sealing off known nesting sites at night. They also help the baby turtles get a head-start in life by releasing them from the beach. You can help them do this by releasing the little ones yourself, at RM5 an egg. All the money goes back to turtle conservation. The employees will flatly refuse tips.
Once in the water, the turtles do what all of us do – try to make something out of their lives. They eat, sleep, get married, have children and die – except that most of them don’t get to the adult/get married bit. 999 out of 1,000 end up as other creatures’ lunch or get entangled in fishing nets or die out of eating plastic bags that are often mistaken for food. The years between 0 and 40 are called the ‘lost years’ because scientists don’t really know what these guys do or even where they are during these years. Tracking technology has not been around that long and even the current tracking technologies don’t have batteries that last 40, let alone 100 years! At the same time, these are the critical years, if you can survive the first 40, you’ll probably live till 100!
If Alif were female and survive the lost years, she should be back here in around 2056, a point at which I should be in my lost years. My children and their kids might be in Cherating again, releasing Alif’s babies. And you and I wanna make sure that that will actually happen!
But why should we be concerned about Alif and all the other turtles? Because we’re ALL inter-connected – you, me, the plants, the animals, including the turtles – even beings that our forefathers considered inconvenient or disgusting even – like the bees, bats, termites. We all play a part in the big scheme of things in this universe. Removing or deleting parts of this ultra-complex mathematical equation upsets the ecosystem and will surely affect us all in the long or even near-term.
Here’s what you can do to help the turtles survive
- Don’t eat turtle eggs. Don’t buy turtle eggs
- Don’t watch turtles laying eggs – that stresses them out, and might discourage them to come back the following year
- Go visit the Turtle Sanctuary – get a better appreciation of what’s at stake
- Don’t throw plastics (and other non-biodegradables) at sea
“There is not a moving creature on earth, nor a bird that flies with its two wings, but are communities like you. We have neglected nothing in the Book, then unto their Lord they shall be gathered.” [Quran 6:38]