Though we booked to watch the turtles, we were told that the ranger would call us if there is a turtle landing at Telok Mak Nik in Kemaman, Terengganu, which is about 20KM from Cherating. We were lucky and the ranger picked us up around 9.30 pm and drove us to the site with another family. We had to walk about 80 mts in the deserted sparse jungle by the beach.
In hushed silence, we watched a turtle doing its reproductive process in the open beach below a muddy slope. The ranger lit a torch, without distracting the turtle, on the freshly laid eggs for for us to see.
|Turtle laying eggs - unable to capture clear shot|
The ranger told that the whole process takes about 2 to 3 hours for the turtles, that includes selecting the nesting ground > digging the nest > laying about 70-140 eggs > closing the nest > go back to the sea!
As I was standing next to the ranger, I started talking to him and asked how do they scout for turtles. He told that there were 6 rangers working in that area, who are vigilant at nights on the look out for turtle landings. He walked us away from the crowd to show us the turtle mark on the beach.
He said, 'today you are seeing a green turtle and looking at the size it should be around 30 years old'. Actually, the green turtle looked blackish gray in that dim torch light. He further added, that each turtle might come to the same location for 6 or 7 times in the same season to lay eggs.
|Closing the nest using rear flipperes|
Another interesting fact I learned was that the turtles' gender would be decided based on the temperature of the nest. What we saw was considered as 'open beach' where the the nest was quite shallow with comparatively warm temperature, so if left naturally, it would produce female turtles.
The rangers dug out all the eggs, without disturbing the poor turtle, which was busy closing its nest. When I asked the rangers, why would they disturb this natural process, he told that they would take all these eggs to the hatchery where it would be safely hatched in about 6 weeks, thus protecting the species from predators and poachers.
|Egg - flexible soft shell, resembling a ping-pong ball|
In the mean time, another ranger brought freshly hatched baby turtles from the sanctuary so that we could release all of them at the same time.
|2 hours old babies!|
The ranger showed us how to hold a baby...
When the turtle completed its job and started to move towards the sea, the spectators in-spite of warning, used flash to capture this action. As turtles use moon/star light to find their way to the sea, this turtle got confused with the flash and started to move uphill! So, the ranger had to raise his voice among the crowd and then gently guide the turtle back towards the sea.
|Trying to move towards light|
Everyone cheered as it touched water and started to swim.
Within seconds, the turtle was gone. It was an awesome, once in a life-time experience, which otherwise we get to see only in National Geographic or Discovery Channel!