If you are in Rantau Abang, Dungun, spend an hour or two to visit the Turtle Conservation and Information Centre. You will learn more about the endangered turtles and the steps you can take to protect them.
Sea turtles are among the most ancient and fascinating creatures on Earth. They have been around for over 100 million years, surviving the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. They are also highly migratory, travelling thousands of kilometers across the oceans to feed, mate, and nest.
However, sea turtles are also facing many threats from human activities, such as poaching, fishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), six out of seven species of sea turtles are endangered or critically endangered.
In Malaysia, there are four species of sea turtles that nest on its shores: the leatherback, the green, the hawksbill, and the olive ridley. The leatherback is the largest and rarest of them all, reaching up to three meters in length and weighing up to 900 kilograms.
It is also the only sea turtle that lacks a hard shell, having instead a leathery skin with seven longitudinal ridges. The leatherback feeds mainly on jellyfish and can dive deeper than any other turtle, reaching depths of over 1000 meters.
The leatherback used to be a common sight on the beaches of Rantau Abang, a small village in the state of Terengganu on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Rantau Abang was one of the few places in the world where leatherbacks came to nest in large numbers, attracting thousands of tourists and researchers every year.
The peak nesting season was from May to September, when hundreds of leatherbacks would emerge from the sea at night and crawl up the sandy beach to dig their nests and lay their eggs. Each female leatherback could lay up to 100 eggs per clutch, and up to nine clutches per season.
After laying their eggs, the leatherbacks would cover their nests with sand and return to the sea, leaving their offspring to fend for themselves.
However, the leatherback population in Rantau Abang has declined drastically over the years, due to various factors such as egg poaching, beach erosion, artificial lighting, predation by dogs and monitor lizards, and incidental capture by fishing nets and trawlers.
The last recorded nesting of a leatherback in Rantau Abang was in 2011, and since then no more leatherbacks have been sighted on its shores.
The leatherback is now considered functionally extinct in Malaysia, meaning that there are not enough individuals left to sustain a viable population.
Fortunately, there is still hope for the other three species of sea turtles that nest in Rantau Abang: the green, the hawksbill, and the olive ridley. These species are smaller and more colorful than the leatherback, with hard shells that have different patterns and colors.
The green turtle is named after the color of its fat and flesh, which is due to its herbivorous diet of seagrasses and algae. The hawksbill turtle has a distinctive beak-like mouth and a shell that is covered with overlapping scutes that have a tortoiseshell appearance.
The olive ridley turtle is the smallest of them all, with an olive-green shell that has six to eight costal scutes on each side.
These three species still nest regularly in Rantau Abang, although in smaller numbers than before. The average annual nesting is about 70 to 80 nests per year, with most of them belonging to the green turtle.
The nesting season for these species is from March to October, with some variations depending on the weather and moon phases. Unlike the leatherback, these species tend to nest more than once per season, returning to the same beach every two to four weeks.
To protect these endangered sea turtles and their habitats, the Rantau Abang Turtle Conservation & Information Centre (TCIC) was established in 1984 by the Department of Fisheries Malaysia.
The centre is located on the coastal road of Rantau Abang, Dungun, Terengganu. The centre has several functions and objectives, such as:
Beach patrols are conducted by staff on duty from 9 pm to 6 am.
Visitors can join the patrols to witness the nesting process of the sea turtles, or watch the hatchlings being released into the sea. The centre also organizes various activities and events throughout the year, such as turtle camps, workshops, seminars, exhibitions, festivals, and competitions.
The centre welcomes volunteers, interns, students, researchers, and media who are interested in learning more about sea turtles and contributing to their conservation.
Rantau Abang Turtle Conservation & Information Centre is one of the 10 conservation centres in Terengganu that are administered by the Department of Fisheries Malaysia. The other nine centres are:
Together, these centres have released more than 100,000 baby turtles back into the sea through several successful incubation and release programs.
They have also conducted various research and conservation projects to improve the knowledge and management of sea turtles in Malaysia.
Rantau Abang Turtle Conservation & Information Centre is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves nature and wildlife. It is a place where you can learn about the amazing life cycle and journey of sea turtles, witness their nesting and hatching activities, interact with the friendly and knowledgeable staff, and support their conservation efforts.
It is also a place where you can enjoy the scenic beauty and tranquility of the beach, the sea, and the sky.
It is a place where you can experience the wonder and joy of seeing these ancient mariners return to their ancestral home. It is a place where you can make a difference for the future of sea turtles.
The centre is open daily except Friday. Operation hours are from 8 am to 5 pm. This centre is also closed during Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Aidiladha public holidays.
Address: Rantau Abang Turtle Conservation and Information Centre, Rantau Abang, 23050 Dungun, Terengganu Darul Iman
Tel: +609-844 4169