We were living in Kerteh, Terengganu when my Dutch friend came to visit.
interested in all creatures big and small. Turtle watching is a big
attraction in the East Coast
of Terengganu, and we were told by all the local 'experts' that our best
chance for a sighting
of a leatherback turtle was the beach at Rantau Abang, 16 km north of Kuala
We all knew that the giant leatherback turtles come only once a year to lay
The rest of the time they are known to wander as far away as Madagascar in
Each year, beginning in May and ending in September, they come to this part
Terengganu. Rantau Abang is only one of six beaches in the world where the
turtles lay their eggs. It is possible to sight a few in July but the best
month is August
when the moon is full. Tonight was such a night. By the time Caroline had
heard all the
probabilities, she was determined to go.
I had witnessed such an event when I was a child. I remembered the
offered to drive Caroline there. I told her to put on a parka and I made
and a pot of coffee.
We arrived at Rantau Abang and saw a crowd on the beach. There were children
running on the beach and I was secretly pleased when an old man from the
came and scolded them. He told them the turtles did not like noise or bright
Immediately, several teenagers switched off their video cameras. Parents
children and persuaded them to lie down under the trees. It was 9 p.m. and
we were told
we had a three-hour wait. I sat under a casuarina, poked by numerous pine
looked at the beautiful moon.
I must have dozed off because I was suddenly awakened by a shout. I saw
running all around us. Apparently, a turtle had been sighted further up the
I woke Caroline up and realized a chilly breeze was blowing from the sea. It
easy to run on the soft sand. I felt strangely excited even though it was
not my first time. We
walked about half a mile and then I saw it. The turtle had already crawled
up the beach and
dug a deep hole. She was about 3 meters in length. A man whispered that she
about 700 kilograms. I was impressed. After much heavy breathing, she
'delivered' about 100
eggs, each egg the size of a ping pong ball. She stopped several times. I
saw 'tears' in her eyes.
I attributed this to pain, but was later told that the tears kept the sand
from her eyes.
I was fascinated by the number of eggs and her noisy breathing but we
watched in silence.
I was upset because I saw a man lifting out some eggs in his hands to show a
tour group. The
turtle was still laying eggs. A young boy lifted a flipper. Another climbed
on the turtle's back.
They were obviously showing off. I ignored their pranks but Caroline became
She tried to pull one boy off. I knew this was not going to be well received
by the local villagers.
I pulled Caroline away and distracted her attention by pointing to some
goats in a pen.
The turtle took nearly an hour. Then she made her way clumsily back into the
The instant she hit water, the clumsy creature transformed into a graceful
I heard Caroline gasp.
The experience was indeed an extraordinary one, but I am not sure I will
ever be able
to do it again. I may not have a chance because I read newspaper reports
there have not been any sightings in Malaysia in recent years. I have seen a
in a tank and was very depressed. However, what sticks in my memory in the
Rantau Abang is the coarse behavior of some of the crowd. That will not be
I have since been to the marine park near Pulau Redang and saw some turtles
in captivity. The efforts of the Turtle Research Team will give hope for the
future of sea
turtles in this part of the world.