A positive U-turn for Libaran’s turtles
Published on: Sunday, February 09, 2020
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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The second hatchery in the village, built on Feb 4.
lFourth of a series

THIS is one U-turn which will raise eyebrows and praise even well beyond Sabah. The U-turn is a total abandonment of eating turtle eggs to total protection of the eggs! 

It’s a feat which the State Government and Sabahans should begin to recognise. Libaran used to be dubbed the graveyard of turtle eggs.

But that harbinger of death has been reversed. 

From a tradition of complete destruction to total protection of 4km to 5km of potential but not officially sanctioned turtle nesting beaches – which is very long.    

This has been an absolute challenge. 


Alex celebrates Best Tourism Product Award with Village Development 
Chief Imran (right), Village Head Ramlee (second left) and SWD officer Herman. 


A 2nd hatchery marks the U-turn 

But the 400 villagers from 78 registered households of Libaran Island have done it, inspired by a never-say-die mastermind, Alex Yee of course.  

They marked this complete turnaround when they set up the second hatchery right in the middle of the village on Jan 4.

What it means is eggs from all turtle landings on vast beaches on the village side, will be collected and planted in the second hatchery.


New milestone: Turtle totally protected  

This new milestone means turtles of unsung Libaran Island is now totally protected, bottom-up, enjoying the same protection like those of world famous top-down official status Selingan, Gulisaan and Bakkunggan Kecil within the 17 sg km Turtle Island Park of Sabah.  

The Libaran saga is a new breakthrough which looked impossible just three years ago. 

Alex Yee, who set up the first hatchery in 2012 at the Walai (home) Penyu (turtle) Conservation Park on the east side of Libaran under an MoU with Sabah Wildlife Department, said total protection was actually his original vision and mission which he worked on from Day 1. 


A worker preparing the ground at Libaran’s second hatchery at the village. 


Proof of intention 

The proof of that intention was he sent 13 locals to Kinabatangan to be trained as Honorary Wildlife Wardens all  later paid full wages for patrolling.

So even though Libaran per se is not an officially protected turtle island, Honorary Wildlife Wardens are authorised to protect the species under the Sabah Wildlife Enactment 1997.  

For one-and-a half years Alex actually paid the 13 full salaries for patrolling but alas, one by one they went missing. 

Where the grassroots flopped, Alex looked to the village leadership.


First dialogue ended in a flop

On Aug 22, 2014, villagers packed the balai kampong for a big dialogue led by the then Headman, Alex was around, so was Rashid Sapuri, then SWD Officer for Sandakan, climaxing in hampers awarded to eight winners of a Cleanliness Competition.

Although the dialogue did not end with a pledge to set up a hatchery at the village, all agreed to work together to protect the island’s turtles.       

But half way through the deal, the village leadership executed a U-turn over an allowance issue.

“In fact, I was subsequently barred from entering the village so that whole plan was undone!”            

Community turtle conservation temperature at the village end went into a deep freeze with little hope of a warming.

Plus eight straight years of losses at the Walai Penyu Conservaion Park, Alex mooted quitting on a few occasions.


Change of village heads after New Government marks the U-turn 

But suddenly, there was a change of village leadership after a change of government post the 9 May 2018 G14 elections, followed by an encouraging first break-even in 2019, thanks to a rise of a mixture of Western and Chinese tourists.

Imran Mohd Unsun became the Village Development Chief while Ramlee Kahar became the Village Headman.  

Like a breath of fresh air, Alex re-entered the village to discuss with Imran and Ramlee to stage another dialogue which was held on Dec 21, 2019. 


Pride and honour at the second dialogue. 


Concrete change from a new dialogue  

“Once again, it’s about adhering to the cause because two weeks before that, I did my ground work with Imran and Ramlee and during the dialogue chaired by Imran, this time the Kampung folks agreed to set up a hatchery at the village side and try out a homestay program,” Alex noted. 

“The best part was after my prior ground work discussion with the two village leaders, Ramlee found a land owner – Ahmad bin Sammah who agreed his land be used as site for the new hatchery and all of us including covering journalists, SWD Representative Herman Sha, were able to visit that piece of land after the dialogue.”   


Thrills and spills over Best Tourism Product award  

By the way, Walai Penyu Conservation Park founded and operated by Alex won the Best Tourism Product Award in the Sabah Tourism Awards 2019 held on 30 November 2019.

Alex brought the shield to the Dec 21 dialogue, the obvious thrills and spills on the faces of the villagers who exuded feeling of pride and honour was something to witness. 

Asked whether the award sparked the historic change in Libaran, Alex said: “No, because the ground work was done before the award.”            

On Feb 3, Alex went back to Libaran with MD Ghazali to hand over a set of green mesh fencing nets to landowner, Ahmad bin Sammah. 


The day when the village hatchery was built 

On Feb 4, he returned to Libaran with Ghazali and his nephew to erect the 15’ x 15’ hatchery perimeter fence net designed to prevent dogs, lizards and cats from encroaching and eating the eggs.  The village hatchery is a symbol of total protection for Libaran.

How does it feel? 

“Honestly, there was no ‘wow’ feeling or fireworks when we were setting it up, just ordinary. It didn’t sink in as a very significant event in the history of Libaran until I got back to Sandakan when I realised, wah, it’s done!”  There’s a lot to celebrate but Alex says he does not want to jump the gun.


The hardware is done, the test is the software: Alex

“The hardware is done, we still need to wait for the software, meaning honorary wardens trained, put them on patrol, get the eggs from nesting turtles and plant them in the hatchery,” he said. 

“We got the villagers to accept the idea, set up the hardware, then we must train honorary wardens, put them on patrol, collect and plant the eggs, wait for the hatchlings to come up and release of the hatchlings. The wait is continuing but we are on the right track,” Alex noted. 

Meanwhile, Univesiti Sabah Malaysia economics lecturer, Dr James Alin underscored the significance of the Libaran saga.


Community managed hatchery a very important achievement: Dr James  

“The setting up of the community managed hatchery I think is a very Important achievement because it actually sets the future direction of turtle conservation in Libaran. 

“That is the future, it is no longer private company brining tourists , show them around, that’s it all while local community are observers, they are like spectators, he is running the event and they are just looking and observing him. 

“This is, I think, the future of conservation is today decided because once the community is in charge of the hatchery we should expect them to look after the trash issue and in the end acquire high-level of awareness to clean the front of their homestay.

“It affects their pockets and for the community to take over caring for the quality of the beach to invite turtles to come back by removing threats on a long-term basis,” Dr James said.       

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