Turtles and Life

Written by Dr. Chen Pelf Nyok

Dr. Chen is the co-founder of Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia. She currently heads the community-based River Terrapin Conservation Project in Kemaman, Terengganu, Malaysia.

1 Mar 2015

Edward Lim and Danial Tiang were our first volunteers who participated in our Kemaman River Terrapin Volunteer Programme, which was rolled out at the beginning of the River Terrapin nesting season. Following is a reflection of Edward’s experiences in a River Terrapin project, and in life.


Hello! I’m Edward Lim, student, 19, loves music, stories and a whole bunch of other stuff that any young adult looking for their place in this world could relate to. Recently, I participated in my first volunteer programme with Turtle Conversation Society of Malaysia (TCS). TCS is an NGO dedicated to saving the turtles of Malaysia. I know the name is a mouth-full but so was the experience I had there. Now this is also my first time blogging, so yeah, lots of firsts for me, yay!

Well, to be brutally honest, which some of my friends say I need to cut down on seeing as subtlety is needed quite a bit in this life of ours, the trip was a bit of a dissapointment from the practical work point-of-view, but on a mental and personal level it was a surprisingly refreshing breath of fresh air.

Why is that you ask? Well we’ll get back to that later but first, lets talk about the trip on a more chronological order. On the first day when we reached Kemaman after a long and music-filled bus ride, me and my fellow student and friend Danial met up with Miss Chen Pelf Nyok, the lady which after the whole trip I felt was the one organizing and managing everything related to TCS while also being the co-founder of the NGO. She brought us to the field house which was a decent low cost terrace house in the middle of a chinese dominated living area. Then she briefed us on the ideals, goals, and the purpose of TCS, all of which you could check out on their website, then she told us what we would be doing for the night which will be to mark, measure and weigh any female river terrapins that ascends the riverbank to lay her eggs, and then proceed to weigh and measure the eggs as well. We were also going to test out a new way of tracking the movements of the female river terrapins via bluetooth technology.

But as I said practical work-wise it was disappointing as the terrapins decided that Danial and I were mortal enemies to the turtle population and it was the best course of action to hold out on laying their precious oblong marvels till we were gone. Saddening I know, in the course of the 4 nights we were camping by the Kemaman River, we only had two terrapins, who I figured didn’t agreed with the view of the other terrapins, thus they came up to deposit their eggs. Furthermore, to add salt to the injury, only one of them was caught by us as the other one decided to be a ninja and sneaked off into the night after laying her eggs, (see what I did there with the ninja turtle reference hehe). (To be honest i never actually watched this when i was younger but still i played the games and they were pretty cool.)

Alright back on a more serious note, that was pretty much all the practical work we did, there’s still relocating the eggs to the hatchery outside Pak Wazel’s house (the villager who is part of the “Terrapin Gang” that helps TCS with the project), but that’s it. I don’t really blame anyone for this as no one can control the terrapins’ timing to lay eggs, they are their own bosses.


As the saying goes, “God gives and God takes,” one evening when we were in Pelf’s car on our way to dinner, I asked Pelf how she ended up where she was, now I was curious about this since we arrived having learned since then that Pelf was not only doing projects for TCS but also doing her Ph.D. degree in Zoology at the same time. I was amazed, astoundingly so, at her determination and ability to be able to pull off the above. So then a reason was needed behind such intense dedication, a drive of some sorts and she gave it right there in her story. She loves what she does and she’s living her dreams. Now it’s hard to do what we love in life, it takes courage, heaps of it as our society doesn’t support certain types of dreams whether in terms of financial rewards or respect given but Pelf didn’t care about the money or the fame. She just does what she loves. Pelf wasn’t always living her dream, in the past she was lost too in terms of what her future career would be but she just kept doing what she was doing and somewhere along the line realised she had an affinity for turtles. She then decided she would love nothing more than saving these aquatic creatures of gentleness. So I asked her wasn’t it hard to live by with just a job as a conservationist? Then she said, “Well yes, it’s not as luxurious a lifestyle as one would want,” but she’s doing what she loves so the sacrifices don’t seem revelant at all.

On a more personal level this showed me how important finding what we love to do in life is, (basically, the importance of finding our dream). As Pelf’s story showed me that when you’re doing what you love, you can achieve so much more and be happy even with much less. Pelf’s story showed me that one day I would find my passion and I needed to be ready for it when it comes, fully equiped in the form of skills I aquired through studying or any other form of education, so that I could pursue it whole-heartedly with nothing holding me back. Yeah so, basically I felt more motivated to study and search for my passion after Pelf shared her story and I would like to thank her for that.

Now, I would like to mention for a brief moment the lovely villagers of Kampung Pasir Gajah, Kemaman, that collaborates with TCS with the Kemaman River Terrapin Project. I remember Pak Wazel with his ever joyous smile, Perik his son which would pilot the boat across the river every night, Dollah the one whom I would ride with on his motorbike to get to the river, (I really love those rides especially the morning ones back to the kampung when you feel the cold morning wind in your face while you watch the sun rises, the night ones are pretty legit too seeing the stars shine ever so bright in the sky, those rides were cool), and countless others more of which my pea-sized brain could never hope to remember all their names. Oh wait, there’s of course Pak Wazel’s 5-year old grandson we called “Adik” whom I have fond memories of playing torchlight battles with. Seeing all these villagers being so nice and friendly to us while Pelf chats with them nonchalantly every 5 mins gives me hope that the very real issue of racism we deal with here in Malaysia can one day be truly solved.


So yeah, that’s my take on this amazing and motivational trip. I got to meet tonnes of amazing people, all amazing in their own amazing way, of course there’s much more. There’s still the amazing Kemaman food I could write about or two of Pelf’s juniors who also have amazing stories of their own or the charismatic way Pelf convinced another Village Chief to start a terrapin conservation programme in a local secondary school or the long walk down Monica Bay beach I had with Danial where we deepened our bromance, yeah you get the point. There’s an ocean of things I could write about this trip but that’s for another time. I hope the journey of words I just took you on wasn’t too much of a pain and yeah check out TCS’ website and sign up for their programmes. It’s quite an experience and who knows maybe you’ll have more luck than me and Danial did with the terrapins! And, try to support this NGO in anyway that you can, remember we humans don’t own this planet, we’re sharing it with a bunch of quirky adorable neighbors :)

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