Sustainability: Practices that build more value than destroy
Published on: Sunday, March 15, 2020
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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Releasing Hawksbill hatchlings on March 9.
TWO weeks ago, we reported how Terengganu squandered and threw away its biggest and most awesome turtle in the world – the leatherback turtle, because of good-intentioned but ignorant practices.

What a tragic irreversible loss for good!

Daily Express, like UK’s famed The Guardian, known for its strive to secure financial and editorial independence in perpetuity (quality of lasting forever), keeps a deep interest on the question of sustainability. 

So, we are a fan of The Guardian, for doing its best to safeguard journalistic freedom, free from commercial and political interference as much as possible.

The Guardian was founded in 1936.

The fact that they vowed financial and editorial independence for “perpetuity” means they have made sustainability in that transcendental goal their mission and vision.

The Guardian writer’s short and sharp definition 

So, it was no surprise to me while browsing through some of their reports the other day, I came across a master stroke clarity on the meaning of sustainability from one of its writers, Bill Baue, who said:

“The purpose of sustainability reporting couldn’t be simpler to define – it answers the question whether present practices can persist- that is, continue to build more value that it destroys.”

This is such a short, sweet and sharp definition of sustainability so simple to grasp it is no excuse for politicians and governments to claim ignorance and mess up the earth with rafts of destructive practices.    

For instance, I have always thought unbridled turtle egg eating alone destroyed Terengganu enviable leatherback turtle.  

Misguided practices destroyed the mighty leatherback 

But Penampang-Sabah hailed turtle geneticist, Associate Professor Dr Juanita Joseph, said what doomed the leatherback were simply misguided official and free-for-all consumption practices that destroyed value more than it built it, that’s all.    

Practice One: Official sanction for the public to collect and eat leatherback turtle eggs up to 98pc, since the 1950s.

Practice Two: Reserved just minimum 2pc to 3pc of the eggs for incubation and reproduction falsely thinking everything releases to sea would survive to adulthood at sea and return to nest when the reality is just about one out of 1,000.

Practice Three: Ignorant of the fact that the sex of reptiles is temperature-determined, they incubated eggs in open beaches under the sun, not knowing that above 87 degree C, all hatchlings would become females.

So this is a classic case of how Terengganu squandered their awesome leatherback because bad practices persisted for more than 50 years and destroyed more value than it built.

The statistics highlights it. 

From 10,000 landings in Rantau Abang per year in the 1950s it collapsed to just two in 2010 and just one in 2017. 

Fatal loss of numbers & destruction of biological value 

Besides big destruction in numerical value, unscientific practices completely destroyed biological value.

That is, none of the eggs laid among later batches of landings especially the last three landings (2010, 2017) ever hatched because the practice of incubating eggs under the hot sun for decades wiped out male leatherbacks so the eggs were not fertilised.

So, if we look at Baue’s simple to grasp, easy to understand idea of sustainability, Terengganu’s practices never built more value than it destroys, it did the exactly the opposite, it destroyed more value than it built value, which confirms physicist and industrialist Koid Huan Guan’s assertion – anything that gets worse is not sustainable, anything that gets better is sustainable.

From Terengganu’s tragic case, practices like eating turtle eggs finally caught up and could not persist, it could not be sustained because it destroyed the imperative – maintaining the leatherback population.   

Libaran: Practising building more value than it destroys 

Back to Sabah, here is an unfolding good story from Pulau Libaran that fits the bill of Baue’s reference to practices that build more value than it destroys. 

For decades, the practice on the island had been like Terengganu – villagers collected and ate Green and Hawksbill turtle eggs, joined by dogs and monitor lizards.  

Not only that, the long beaches were buried under mountains of trash, debris of all kinds and plastics so even if turtles wanted to nest, the trash would stop them but nobody bothered.

Everything was about destroying more value than it built so the turtles there sure faced doom without an honest intervention because Libaran is not officially part of the protected Sabah’s Turtle Island Park like Selingan, Bakkunggan Kecil and Gulisaan. 

The turning point 

But 2010 was the turning point the day Alex Yee said “yes” to Sabah Wildlife Department request to help cut out the egg eating practice and proceeded to build more value than it destroys.

In 2012, he funded the building of a hatchery at the north-eastern end of the island on a leased land from a policeman land owner and began the Walai Prenyu Conservation Park.

Technical help from the Sabah Wildlife Department built a hatchery that is half covered half open so that the sex ratio of males and female hatchlings are half males, half females – obviously building more reproductive value than it destroyed.

Then in 2013, he funded 12 villagers to train as Honorary Wildlife Wardens, again an action to build more human value to protect than to destroy.

In 2015, he turned his attention to build more value to the kilometre long beach near his hatchery by raising fund to pay villagers to clear the horrendous trash-riddled beach to boost turtle landing – see that practice of building more value than it destroys at work?     

The 6th beach cleaning campaign to sustain value built  

To cut the story short, last Monday (March 9) I was in Libaran to witness the launching of the 6th beach cleaning campaign to sustain the value the kilometre-long nesting beach cleared of trash five years ago. 

Sabah Tourism Board, represented by Senior Officer Jurinus Jeffrey, pumped in RM1,200 to sustain the cleaning of 300 metres for one year while FORSTER (Friends of Sea Turtles  Education & Research) committed rm8,400 to keep 700 metres of the beach clean for 2020. 

So we witnessed a contract signing ceremony where three women from Kg Libaran were recruited to do a daily cleaning job to sustain turtle nesting value of a kilometre long beach started five years ago, to prevent destructive rubbish from taking over again.     

The big fuss is all about sustaining the ultimate value – life on earth, sea turtles in this case.       

Alex found that after 10 years of adhering to the cause, money from a rising flow of tourists from Europe and China attracted to his cause finally broke even.

In other words, cash inflows from tourists to see his iconic hatchery conservation practice built around collecting, incubating eggs, employing paid villagers to clean and patrol beaches can persist because it is building more value than it destroys!     

New front: Hatchery and homestay to build economic value for villagers   

On March 9, I saw how Alex’s passed on the potential of building more economic value opportunity to three local household through a Homestay Programme centred around the second hatchery set up by villagers one month ago to attract paying tourists to see not just turtles but also to experience exotic village life. 

Juriuns was there to brief the three households the rudiments of what homestay tourism entails with more follow-ups to come.

The whole idea is to use the village hatchery to attract paying tourists to patronise homestays.

In other words, when this second hatchery and the Homestay programme become operational, the traditional practice of collecting and eating turtle eggs will cease in Pulau Libaran.

Turtle nesting on Libaran will become largely protected even though it is not part of the Sabah Turtle Islands Park. 

Pulau Libaran will then fit the bill of Bill Baue’s simple definition of sustainability, that is, it answers the question whether this unfolding practice of  no more eating turtle eggs can persist – than is, as it continues to build value that it destroys”.

We believe the new practice of no more turtle egg eating will persist and finally  builds more conservation value than it destroys.


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