Turtle conservation in Malaysia from the perspective of the media

Written by Hilary Chew

26 Oct 2009

I still remember vividly my first encounter with a marine turtle in the form of a slide photograph from an overhead projector.

Sitting on the classroom floor with other classmates, I was awed by the size of the leatherback which we were told was laying her eggs in a beach called Rantau Abang in the east coast.

That awareness was brought to my school by the then World Wildlife Fund (now World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia) through its environmental education activities.

Fast forward 25 years later and I visited the famed beach in Terengganu – the leatherback of Rantau Abang, the beach being one of the seven nesting sites in the world for the largest marine turtle, is on the brink of extinction. The deserted seashore is a stark reminder of failure on both front – the government of the day and the conservation community.

The former lackluster attitude towards marine conservation, unfortunately, continues today while the latter, no doubt has created some awareness BUT lacks sustaining power to push for fundamental change.

Turtles eggs are still being consumed and management of the species are in disarray no thanks to the fact that turtles are considered state resources and thus fall under the state respective laws. Some states don’t even have a law on Chelonian. And the idea of a federal law remains a suggestion on paper.

As a media practitioner, it is heartening to see that local journalists i.e. those in Terengganu in particular are taking a keen interest on the issue which is at their doorstep.

If anything, the media especially the Malay newspaper, could play a very significant role in changing the entrenched tradition of turtle egg consumption among the populace which in my opinion is the battleground to prevent at least the still viable green turtle from going down the same road as the leatherback (as well as the hawksbill and the olive ridley).

Of course, the other way, is a nationwide ban which will require the political will which the turtle had counted on for decades only to be condemned to extinction.

Hilary Chiew is an environmental journalist with The Star newspaper. That’s all; nothing fanciful.

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  1. Hi Hilary, very well said. I would like to highlight the weekly newspaper column in Utusan Malaysia by Sulur Bidai. The writer has written few articles in support of turtle conservation and on many times has been very vocal against the sale and consumption of turtle eggs, the way in which turtles are being managed, etc. If only there were more like the writer in the Malay newspapers.

    • Rahayu, We sent press statements on the Turtle Blogathon to the Malay papers and I am not sure if they published the story. As far as we know, only the NST and the Star published articles on the event.

  2. Thanks Rahayu for introducing me, now I felt a bit famous :)

    Yes Hilary, as Rahayu mentioned, I did several stories on turtle conservation and did help the “Say NO to turtle eggs” drive by KUSTEM before.

    And yes it’s sad to see the local media at Terengganu don’t have the power to make it happen on turtles. For the past few years, I did ask for a feedback from the state government on the stories I’ve written but up till now, nothing has been replied or answered.

    So for me, it seems the government has to take a stern action. There is no other way, and we can’t be anymore lenient to amend the policies. Time are short, something drastic has to be done by the government esp the Terengganu state government.

    As for me, got reply or not, I’m still and will write about turtles vocal or soft.

    For me, my column will be read by around 2.3 million readers weekly, hopefully the younger generation will realize something in the near future.

    And for me, I’m not into fame, so let me only known as Sulur Bidai.

    Hope we can work together.

    P/s. RZ. I’m going for another homestay trip next year same dc, different homestay. Wanna tag along?


    • Hello SB! Thank you for dropping by.

      If you could recall, I conducted 4 Turtle Camps in 2008, and sent in a bunch of hand-written letters from the school kids. Just wanted to let you know that I am very grateful that you had chosen to publish the letters and the story.

      I alerted the school teachers, and they were very happy as well :)

      Thank you!

    • Dear SB,
      Many thanks for your response and I hope you will get to read this. Please continue to bring up the issue of turtles in Terengganu when ever you can. It is still the state in Penin. Malaysia recording the highest nesting density (although much reduced compared to the past). I have dreams to restore the turtles here to their glorious past and maybe there are a handful of people in Terengganu like yourself who share this dream. Can we meet one day for coffee, maybe through RZ?


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