For the first time I met Prof Chan and Pelf, I had to get myself shin-deep in muddy waters to cross a flooded area.
It wasn’t the initiation I expected, but I didn’t mind.
We were on a re-con mission to Pasir Kumpal, Dungun to check on a river terrapin nesting site as well as a make-shift hut to be used to monitor the river terrapins during the nesting season.
Back then all I knew of turtles were that its population was dwindling and the myth that if a turtle bit you, it wouldn’t let go till there was lightning.
But in that assignment, the first few I had when I was transferred to Terengganu in January 2006, I learned quite a bit, with the scientific jargon whizzing past my head (which at times still does).
For one, terrapin eggs looked different than turtle eggs. They were oval in shape, not ping-pong like.
2. It was consumed by locals as well as monitor lizards.
3. What a wild boar hoof print looks like and finally, if you procrastinate on cleaning the mud on your leather shoes, you might regret it.
Of course one write-up later led to many more assignments with Prof Chan et al., and that meant I learnt a little bit more.
More importantly I enjoyed learning it. I can actually tell you, despite my limited intellect, the different types of turtles in English and Malay. Some of my colleagues would actually refer to me when writing on turtles!
And even more importantly, for once I could be a proactive environmentalist, where I hope to raise awareness among readers about the plight of turtles and the importance of conservation.
Slowly but surely, Prof Chan, Pelf, Fong and I made the inevitable transition from valuable contacts, who were ever ready with good sound-bites, to good friends.
And that led to “yam-cha”-ing sessions or Scrabble or dinner of which saw my passion to do my part for the environment in anyway I could grow.
They would tell me problems they faced and we tackle it via an article or by picking each other’s brain to beat “The Man”.
I liked that. I like it a lot.
Now, I’m proud that this trio of women I call friends are playing a bigger role in setting up the Turtle Conservation Centre and I’m glad I can report about it and keep tabs on.
I want their dream to succeed, not so much because it will make a good story (it is already a great story), but because of the impact it will make, especially in educating the public.
I’m still amazed that I am witnessing the setting up of a centre that, I predict, will have a tsunami-effect on conservation.
And it all began when I decided to get my feet wet.
Sean Augustin is a journalist with The New Straits Times who will continue to write about turtles even if he gets teased about it by editors and will remain petulant when the story is not published.