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.