Established in May 2018 in a collaboration with The Taaras Beach and Spa Resort, Turtle Lab has been running for a year and it also means that it is a “1 year anniversary”! Looking at how far we have gone, I feel really grateful to be part of Turtle Lab. When my supervisor shared with me about setting up this public viewing laboratory, I loved the idea so much but I had no idea on how to make it happen. My research partner and I took a few months to prepare the experiment equipment, educational and outreach materials, and protocols in the laboratory. Believe it or not, almost 50% of the preparation were not applicable and practiced in the lab right now!
Things were really beyond our expectation, knowledge, capacity, and even our confidence. The environment, audience (the guests), nature of the job, working cultures, and the workplace relationship totally made me feel out of place. Being placed as an in-house researcher, I was so uncertain if I could deliver the objective of Turtle Lab and perform the duties. Believe it or not, I found it awkward to start a conversation with the FIRST guest visited the lab. Other than the struggles with setting up the laboratory in a five star resort and trying to figure out how to fit into the hotel and tourism industry, I was also making a great effort to adapt the island life and learnt how to live with the coastal community.
Everything started making sense after 2 months, when I managed to study the behavior of the audience, understanding the demand in tourism industry, familiar with the operation of the resort, make friend with the staffs working in the resorts (especially the department of sport & recreation and front office), blend in with the local community, build a mutual understanding with the resort management, enjoy me-time by just sitting at the beach, and most importantly, realize the impact created by Turtle Lab.
People were so curious about what we were doing in Turtle Lab when they were on their way to the restaurant for having meals, when they were exploring before check-in, or maybe they just wanted to kill their time in the afternoon after a few hours of snorkeling or sunbathing. Why are there turtle eggs and baby turtles? Are they real and alive? Who are these people? Are these baby turtles sleeping in the eggshell? With curiosity or any intention that make them stepping into Turtle Lab, it is the opportunity for us to break the barrier between the scientists and general public, by starting a conversation. Beginning with a smile and great “Hello!” “Good morning!”, people came closer to observe the about-to-hatch eggs, while I explain the hatching process of a baby turtle, energy reserve within the yolk attached at the plastron (i.e. abdomen), life cycle of a sea turtle especially the very challenging first few days of its life upon hatching etc. While they were amazed by the facts of sea turtle, more questions came into their mind, and my job is to solve all of them. The guests left the lab with knowledge about sea turtles and the message of saving our nature by changing some habits in life, as simple as not using single use plastic straw when drinking a beverage.
When I noticed the magic made by Turtle Lab, I am driven, with more passion to do my job. I am no longer feeling lost of what I am doing and what Turtle Lab can do, but I am now aware of the significant role of a scientist / turtle biologist / conservationist as an educator, by sharing knowledge, the challenges faced by the marine life, human and our mother nature, and how we can help. Turtle Lab has taught me that relationship is built from conversation, and education, awareness, trust, and impact will come after.
We were working really hard throughout the season and we felt so relieved when the season came to the end. We were celebrating, packing stuffs in the lab, moving out our personal belonging, to officially end the operation of Turtle Lab. We were happy that we made it, meanwhile we were sad of leaving Turtle Lab. I have grown a lot because of Turtle Lab, in fact, I am growing together with it, for both professional and personal development.
In February 2019, we decided to join an invention and innovation competition organized by UniSZA. According to the criteria of the competition, we are required to measure the impact created by Turtle Lab. And that was the time when we found out how great the potential and influences that Turtle Lab can create. After 6 months of investment in terms of time, energy, mental strength, and resources, we managed to
- Conduct 12 batches of experiment
- Hold 60 hatchling release events with the guests
- Release 1,522 hatchlings born in Turtle Lab
- Achieve 91% hatching success
- Reach out more than 2,800 visitors across 36 countries, Top 5 countries with most visitors: Malaysia, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, China
- Generate more than RM30,000 funds including 95 turtle adoption
- Be featured in GoAsia Plus
- Receive appreciation from visitors in Trip Advisor
We knew that we have made impact among people and we have done our best for making Turtle Lab possible, but none of us (SEATRU, including my supervisor) expected for such achievement. The outcome of Turtle Lab in 2018 was then highlighted by winning a gold medal and special award in the competition! I shed tears and screamed when I heard “Turtle Lab – The First Public Viewing Laboratory in Malaysia” being announced during the award ceremony. At that moment, I feel so blessed and thankful for the help, support, and encouragement that we have gotten along the tough journey from many people: my supervisor, the in-house marine biologists, the staffs of The Taaras Beach and Spa Resort, the SEATRU rangers and colleagues a.k.a SEATRU Family, the visitors, and whoever love sea turtles.
I am now with Turtle Lab for another season, to continue serving its missions and values to more people in more approaches. Apart from conducting the current scientific study, holding hatchling release event, and sharing about volunteer program as well as turtle conservation work, we now
- Lead educational day tour to Chagar Hutang Turtle Sanctuary every Tuesday and Thursday
- Sell merchandise that are outsourced from another NGO, Turtle Conservation Society in Turtle Lab
- Display photos to help us in explaining about sea turtles and our conservation work
- Promote eco-friendly turtle watching practices during snorkel/dive trip, such as no feeding and touching
- Initiate Sea Turtle Photo ID Citizen Science Project
- Train the snorkel guides and boatman on doing briefing before snorkel/dive trip
- Expose to more media, e.g. New Straits Times, AIA China, Macaranga
- Connect with other turtle lovers! TurtleSpot from Taiwan, Exo Travel, Tong Xin She (China Young Journalist Group)
- Build capacity among our SEATRU team in science communication by providing on-ground training at Turtle Lab
- Venture to other potential research projects in collaboration with corporate
The journey has just begun. There are more things that Turtle Lab can achieve and I could learn from Turtle Lab. I have a very strong faith in Turtle Lab in creating more impacts and in shaping more future scientists and conservationists!
I was not born and breed at Redang Island, not even a Ganu, but it doesn’t make me love the island, sea turtles and the ocean less than the anok pulau.