Turtle Conservation in Malaysia – Lang Tengah Turtle Watch
Bella Jack works as the Project Co-ordinator and Tanjong Jara Site Co-Manager for Lang Tengah Turtle Watch (LTTW), a small conservation organisation based on the East coast of Malaysia. LTTW was founded in 2014 with the aim to help save sea turtles from extinction, and to date has expanded to work on three different project sites, releasing over 50,000 endangered turtle hatchlings to the ocean.
Bella is involved with all the admin tasks associated with the organisation, and ensuring the smooth running of their project sites. Bella also runs their Tanjong Jara project site, where LTTW run nest adoption and public engagement programmes.
Bella shared with me her experiences in her role and how she ended up working with thousands of turtles.
I first got involved in conservation after a trip to Costa Rica in 2012. Initially having travelled there with the intention of seeing as many animals as I possibly could, I quickly realised that I wanted to find a job that would allow me to spend all my time surrounded by nature, while also working to protect these animals and the fragile ecosystems they inhabit. It was by sheer chance that later that year I saw a sea turtle in Greece for the first time, which led me to spend my next five summers with Archelon, The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, and gave me a love for sea turtles and their conservation.
I chose Lang Tengah Turtle Watch as I was in South East Asia, and saw they were advertising internships. Having previously worked on nesting beaches, I was keen to gain experience with hatchery management, and to be part of a small, local organisation rather than a larger NGO. I was also desperate to see a green sea turtle hatchling – and never could have imagined seeing as many as I now have!
What are you career steps to date?
After volunteering with Archelon once in Chania, Crete, I couldn’t help but go back each year – often as a field leader for an entire season. I was incredibly lucky to be given the opportunity of becoming a field leader after only volunteering for a short period of time, but will be forever grateful for it! My first 6 month summer of managing a nesting beach, and a team of volunteers while living in a small tent in a field with intermittent water and power was one of the toughest experiences I’ve faced, but I learnt an incredible amount in a short period of time!
Coming from a social science background, I have always enjoyed the people side of conservation, be this engagement with volunteers, hotel guests or local communities. After spending several seasons on Crete I was able to travel to Costa Rica, where I worked on a nesting beach and then an in-water project with different organisations.
I was very lucky that after interning with LTTW for 10 weeks, I was offered a paid position, which due to my past experience quickly developed into a permanent role. I think one of the nicest things about getting involved in small organisations, is that you get to know everyone, and that there are opportunities for growth and to feel like you are having a real impact on the organisation and help to reach its potential in achieving conservation aims.
What are the highlights of your job?
Sea turtles are wonderful animals, and they’ve inhabited our planet for over 100 million years. The hatchlings continue to be cute every time you see them, no matter how many you’ve seen! Watching a mother nest is one of the most amazing, intimate experiences. I often have moments where I realise that for many people they will only ever see turtles on TV, and to get to work with these ancient, endangered species and know that you are working to protect them is an incredible feeling.
I’ve also met many of my closest friends while working on conservation projects, and love the diversity of people you get to interact with and that every day is different.
What are your proudest moments?
2019 was LTTW’s biggest season yet, and we were able to save over 200 sea turtle nests being sold to the market for consumption, as well as expanding our conservation efforts in other ways. The growth seen by the organisation each year is phenomenal for such a young organisation, and the continued efforts to expand both the practical conservation and outreach will hopefully start to have a real impact soon.
What challenges have you faced?
LTTW operates in Terengganu, on the East Coast of Malaysia, where it is still legal to trade in sea turtle eggs that are collected from certain beaches. This means that although the system is designed to safeguard the most important nesting beaches, the reality is that it is very difficult to police the sale of turtle eggs in the local markets. I think working in this situation makes you very aware of the struggles faced by wildlife in some areas, and the complexities involved in trying to protect the decline of an endangered species.
What lessons have you learned?
I’ve learned so many things in my current role that it is difficult to make a list! Being involved in a big research project in my first year was a really interesting experience for me, as it was totally different to anything I’d been involved in before. As Project Co-ordinator I have learnt that things don’t always go your way despite the most careful and organised of planning, and that you have to be flexible and able to adapt your plans at the last minute!
What advice do you have for aspiring conservationists?
As cheesy as it sounds, I think the most important thing is to never give up. It was only when I had decided to take a break from working in conservation, and instead move to environmental education, that I realised just how much I love working in conservation. I was very lucky to then find my way to where I am now!
My best experiences have come from working for NGOs that are locally based, and small enough that you can quickly get to know the team. You never know when a volunteering or internship position may turn into something more, and I think it’s important to always give everything to the role you are doing.
What are your next steps?
I hope to continue working in the world of conservation, and my imminent plans are to return to the UK for a bit and look for conservation work there. I would love to still be involved in the running of an organisation, but also to still get to see the practical impact of the work that is being done.
Lang Tengah Turtle Watch continues to grow as an organisation, and each year we begin new projects in different locations on the East Coast of Malaysia. If you are looking for internship opportunities that may lead to more, and also will allow you to have a real impact on the development of an organisation and its conservation aims, then I can’t recommend LTTW enough!