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Jazz fest for turtles drew ‘pools of surprises’
Published on: Sunday, September 10, 2023
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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Green turtle digging nest with powerful front flippers in Libaran. Looking on are Alex Yee and Prof James Alin.
POOLING the interest and strength of everybody can do wonders. Pooling power works also in sea turtle conservation, even though turtles are not a preoccupation of the human race.

Their preoccupation is on what a podcaster calls the “Fatal Four” – money; self preservation/security; recognition and sex, against which they have little or no defence.  

To break through these preoccupations that colonise the minds of people, very special and determined effort is needed to build a strong pool of interest and means.

A case in point is saving the turtle population of an unsung island like Libaran Island – 40 minutes from Sandakan town.



Turtle nests in Libaran.

Amazingly, a robust pool of surprises validated the second Sepilok Jazz Festival on Sept 1-2, with the hope of something even bigger next year.   

Top notch tourism and airline presence 

Unity Government Deputy Federal Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Khairul Firdaus Akbar Khan showed up, so did Poon Ming Fung, Assemblyman for Tanjung Papat and wife.



Khairul Firdaus Akbar Khan, Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture and Poon Ming Fung, Assemblyman for Tanjung Papat.

Suresh Singam, MASwing Sdn Bhd Chief Operating Officer, who gave away lucky draw air tickets, lent a great deal of airline prestige to the cause.

Head of Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Sabah office, Ibrahim bin Othman and Trecey J. Tojuka, Acting Director of Tourism Malaysia, Sabah, made their presence felt.



MASwings Chief Operating Officer Suresh Lingam presents lucky draw air ticket prize as Alex looks on.



From left: Octavius, Michael Hing, Hj Faej Nordin and Alex Yee.

Sponsors such as Sabah Ports Authority staffs, Angkatan Hebat CEO, Hj Faez A. Nordin, Michael Hing, Head of Company Hebat Car Rental & Tours (Borneo Excursions), carry their weight as well.

Octavius of Mari Mari Cultural Village, Johnson Or from Asia Euro Wine & Spirits Sdn Bhd, Dr Robert Ong, Deputy Chief Conservator of Forest and wife, S Chong of Land, Empowerment, Animals, People (Leap), Jonathan Koh of Borneo Sandakan Tours Sdn Bhd, Melanie Chu, GM of Camp Borneo Travel & Tours Sdn Bhd etc, Sandakan-based journalists like Rebecca Chong and Mardinah Jikur of Daily Express, Fedilis of Sri Pelancongan Sabah Sdn Bhd added to the import of the event.  

Capitalising on the joy & fun of a jazz fest 

No other individuals that I know of had ever used the joy and fun of a jazz fest to whip up the pool of interest and strength to help turtles, except its two masterminds, Alex Yee and his buddy architect and music director, Cheong Kok Ann, who handpicked magnificent Band extraordinaire Sonny B & The No.1s, comprising lead vocalist and guitarist, Sonny Bahari, bass and vocalist Naza Aja Husen, drummer Kasim Matahir and keyboardist, Nadia Hong.

Acclaimed local singer and soloist Appy Tots made his cut and Wan G (Mohd Izwan) on the magnetic power and mellow sounds of the saxophone got people up on their feet!



Emcee Amy and Cheong: Music Director (right)



From Left to Right: Motac Sabah Chief – Ibrahim bin Othman, Singer Appy Tots, Tourism Malaysia Sabah Acting Director Trecey Tojuka

The energy and zeal generated among the pool of attendants were a complete contrast to what a Mandarin idiom “Dui nui tan qin (literally play the harp/guqin to a cow)” laments about the frustration over unappreciative audience but the pool of jazz fest crowd picked up the vibes with zest and danced to a vibrant finale Sept 2!

Pool of zealous Britons, German, Spaniard

The pool of zealous supporters in the audience included Britons, German and Spaniards, such as Manchester hailed Aaron Smith and Chloe Grant who is finishing a Masters degree in primate conservation, gunning for a PhD at Salford University who said she enjoyed the “fun way” of doing turtle conservation rather than hearing sad and negative talks.

German Linda Lustit, who studied conservation biology on nocturne animas and ecotourism past nine months while working at the Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre under Dr Robert Ong, said “I am a conservationist, that’s my main reason to come to contribute to that.”



Britons and German supporters. From left: Aaron Smith, Chloe Grant and Linda Lutit.

Spaniard Susana Rovira said the 20 Green and Hakwsbill turtles that crossed her dive in Sipadan will be the most remembered sight of her visit to Sabah with husband and three children.   

Yes, turtles may not preoccupy people’s mind but excite joy when they see them.    

Pool of doctors from West Malaysia 

Probably few noticed there was a pool of enthusiastic West Malaysia-hailed doctors from the Duchess of Kent Hospital and friends sitting upfront near the band.

They were Dr Joshua Ling, Dr Fu, Dr Fikri – all anaesthesiologists, Kenzo Yap Kang Yong (Chinese acupuncturist) and tractor salesman, Jim Ng. 



Pool of doctors and friends from West Malaysia. From left, Dr Fikri, Dr Fu, Jim Ng, Kenzo Yap, Alex Yee and Dr Joshua Ling.

The doctors, who are music literati, confided the jazz fest felled some voids in an entertainment-starved Sandakan.

The ‘most unexpected’ pools of audience 

But the two most unexpected pools of supporters were a group of bird watchers from Mumbai, India, led by Gaurav Abhalye, tour leader an owner of Jungle Lore, and a whole class of students and staff of Trinity Arts & Music Academy, headed by Director, Calixta Kan.

On arrival to Sandakan Airport mid morning Sept1, I did not know I would be driven straight to the Mile 4 Trinity Academy and on entering: ‘Wow’ – a jazz workshop conducted by Cheong Kok Ann in cohort with Sonny B & The No.1s, singer Appy Tots and saxophonist Wan G, packed the hall. 



The ‘most unexpected’ pool of jazz fest supporters – bird watchers from India led by Gaurav Abhalye (left).



The power and mellow sound of the saxophone from Wan G.

“This is the first time I hear about the Sepilok Jazz Festival, we seldom play jazz music but it is a good way to expose turtle conservation to the many people who are not aware of this environmentally friendly effort,” said Calixta Kan, who conceded she has not seen a turtle! 

‘Turtle conservation is for young people’: Alex 

“Conservation needs sustainability, the only way to be sustainable is to involve youths,” explained Alex Yee. 

“The reason are for every 1,000 turtles released, only 1pc or less survive to adulthood, in 2018 we released our 30,000th baby turtle, I know only 30 will survive, let’s say half of that are females which take 18 to 20 years to mature, they will only come back to Libaran to lay eggs in 2036 and then, I’ll be 68. 



Trinity Arts and Music Academy Director, Calixta Kan, receives book on Libaran from Alex.



Trinity Arts and Music Academy students and staff after jazz workshop with jazz fest musicians.



Sonny Bahari and Naza Aja Husen in action.

“So the work for turtles is actually for young people here,” Alex summed up the significance of pooling the interest and means with Trinity Arts & Music Academy now.

“That’s why I told music director Kok Ann we must reach out to youths, it was through my friend James Quek and President of KK Rotary Club who linked us up with his cousin at the Academy.                      

Libaran turtles and a historical fault 

The question is why this bundle of turtle responsibility landed on private lap like Alex?  

The historical fault is when the Government gazetted Sabah Turtle Islands Park in 1977, it included a pool of only three islands – Selingan, Gulisan, Bakungan Kecil but excluded the 2km sq Libaran – the biggest of them all, so its turtle eggs were left free-for-all.         

The story of turtle conservation on Libaran Island 

By the late 2000s, a police landowner complained repeatedly to Wildlife department that villagers, dogs, monitor lizards kept scavenging his land for eggs.

Which prompted Wildlife Officer and friend Roland Nuin to invite Alex to recce Libaran in 2010 to see if he was interested to operate a hatchery, knowing he had run a Slow loris project in Bilit, Kinabatangan and Alex said “yes”, after the recce.

After a signed land lease contract with the police land owner, by Oct 2011, the hatchery started operation in Walai Penyu Conservation Park, under technical advice from the Department. The project created jobs for 10 workers, who kept the leased land rubbish free for turtle to nest.

Mountain of rubbish & Foster

But a mountain of rubbish had buried a kilometre-long beach leading to the island’s 500-strong village.  

To tackle that, Alex gathered a pool of journalists to form Foster (Friends of Sea Turtles Education Research), got it registered in 2014, composed of media first to wage an awareness campaign, eventually pulled in UMS academics like Professor James Alin and sea turtle expert, Associate Professor Dr Juanita Joseph on board.

A 2015 dialogue attended a packed community hall of villagers, village chief, wildlife officer Rashid, multiple media, RTM included, marked a successful pooling of good will with the island village community, when Alex handed out hampers to six winners of a month-long ‘Cleanest House‘ Competition.

As a result, Libaran village is probably one of the cleanest island villages in Sabah today. 

Pool of sponsors & spotless beaches  

After the media blitz, Alex kept the beaches clean by an annual year long beach cleaning campaign since 2015, through a pool of financial sponsors like Traverse Tours Sdn Bhd, Sepilok Tropical Wildlife Adventure, Gamuda Land, Sabah Tourism Board, Tourism Malaysia and Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, individuals such as Terry Wong and Albert Chia. 

Because of the power of pooling everyone’s interest and resource, all the beaches on Libaran are spotless these days, including the compounds of the village houses.

For his effort, Walai Penyu Conservation Park won the 2019 Sabah Tourism Board “Best Product” Award.

In 2021, AquaGoat sponsored a new hatchery which won the Asean Sustainable Tourism Standard Award. 

In 2022, the Sepilok Jazz Festival 2022 won Gold Award for Conservation Product.

Cris Aban, finger style guitarist and vocalist who duet with Yana and trio Joe Wan, Teddy Chin Jr and James Simon who performed at the first edition, were not able to make it this year.



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