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First turtle rehabilitation centre in Borneo opens

First turtle rehabilitation centre in Borneo opens

YTL Hotels has a long-term vision to make a difference to the environment where its expanding collection of unique hotels and resorts are located

When Gaya Island Resort opened its doors in July 2013, it marked the beginning of its marine conservation journey in Borneo. As a result, YTL Hotels has announced the launch of the new Gaya Island Resort Marine Centre, the first turtle rehabilitation centre in the country, complete with turtle rescue hotline.

Within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park located off the coast of Kota Kinabalu in Borneo, the 121-villa resort rests along the coast of Malohom Bay, a natural sanctuary nestled in the hillside of an ancient rainforest, boasting a stunning outline of Mount Kinabalu on the horizon. Even though the resort is located in an area where human activities have already been restricted, it has always aspired to embrace a pro-active role in embarking on conservation programmes to better protect marine life and raise awareness for sustainable seafood choices.

The Gaya Island Resort Marine Centre advocates three conservation pillars – Turtle Rescue, Coral Reef Restoration and Conservation Through Education. The marine centre’s programmes were conceptualised and are being implemented by Scott Mayback, the resort’s resident marine biologist.

Turtle rescue is a key conservation programme, in view of the fact that six out of seven sea turtle species are already declared endangered worldwide. Turtles are affected by human activities such as fishing, development and pollution. Malaysia has spent more than 50 years conserving sea turtles, and most conservation actions are focused on beaches and hatcheries, hence making the initiatives undertaken by the marine centre unique and the first one of its kind in the country.

The marine centre will rescue, rehabilitate and release sea turtles that they receive from the Sabah Wildlife Department and other conservation agencies. Injured or sick sea turtles will be provided with a safe environment in which to recover and where they will be treated with the assistance of Dr Nicholas Pilcher, founder and executive director of the Marine Research Foundation (www.mrf-asia.org), a non-profit organisation based in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

The mission of the Foundation is to further the understanding of marine ecosystems and functions, and conserve the abundance and diversity of marine flora and fauna through research, conservation and education activities. The key objectives of the Foundation include promoting the advancement of indigenous understanding of marine ecosystems, the economy and social wellbeing of communities, and the relief of underprivileged communities which depend on the marine environment. Once the injured or sick turtles have been rehabilitated, they will be tagged and released. A turtle rescue hotline is available for the public to call at +60 13 899 9509 whenever assistance is required.

Turtle Education Programme – To support the turtle rescue and rehabilitation initiatives, the Turtle Education Programme will be implemented in the near future. The programme will enable guests to be engaged in workshops to learn about sea turtles, and how the resort reaches out and educates the local community about sea turtles and the marine environment. Guests can also volunteer to assist the Resident Marine Biologist to help render relevant care for the turtles.

Pulau Gaya aerial viewCoral Reef Restoration – Gaya Island Resort Marine Centre will also champion coral reef restoration. The coral nursery provides an on-land opportunity for guests to become engaged with coral reef conservation. It provides a controlled environment for freshly planted corals to recover. This initiative is carried out in collaboration with Reef Check Malaysia, a non-profit organisation. Activities include the collection of broken or non-viable coral fragments, their attachment to coral blocks or artificial reef structures, placement in the nursery for observation and their return to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park to rehabilitate damaged areas.

The Coral Adoption Programme features the following elements: adopt a coral and plant one coral block/nubbin on land for a fee, receive hands-on training in the process of coral aqua culture, guests provided with pictures taken while planting corals, a certificate and photo updates on their progress, and an option to plant the corals back into the sea with the Resident Marine Biologist. The wholesome experience instills a sense of ownership and responsibility to the marine environment.

Conservation Through Education – Gaya Island Resort has made a commitment in leading the community and beyond in marine conservation. The resort leads by not selling endangered species like sharks and humphead wrasse, choosing products that have minimal impact on the environment, and providing engaging education opportunities for guests and staff to further their appreciation of conservation. This includes weekly conservation talks and participating in the Marine Biologist For A Day Programme, and allowing guests to become involved in future external outreach programmes as volunteers or sponsors. Lastly, providing outreach to the local fishing communities is an essential part of the programme. The marine centre will also provide training in using less harmful fishing practices, educate the fishermen on the benefits of conservation and implement a recycling programme to reduce floating debris.

Visit www.ytlhotels.com for more information

About The Author

Mike Cowton

Michael Cowton, an outdoors writer, editor and photographer with a passion for nature-based travel and wildlife. He is a former editor of EcoTravel, Outdoor Pursuits, Camping, Lakeland Walker and Which Motorcaravan magazines, and national newspaper journalist.

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