Let me introduce you to an incredible guy: Chua Yau Tsen, better known as Udang Chua. Udang means shrimp in Malay. Chua has been a keen advocate for Turtle Excluder Devices or TEDs in Sabah since we started this work back in 2007. He put his boats up for trials, and kept going when the rest of the industry got lazy. He lent us one of his boats to we could make a good TED film for our awareness work. He lent us a boat again when Nat Geo wanted to film our work. He’s funny and committed and one of the most generous people you could meet. He knows his shrimp inside out – he runs thirteen shrimp trawlers and a processing factory and a shrimp farm. Trust me, he knows shrimp.
But he didn’t know much about turtles until we came along, and he has been their friend ever since.
So it was a wonderful opportunity when our schedules coincided to be able to take Chua and his colleague on a recent trip to Mantanani so he could witness our research firsthand. We literally jumped each day from a small boat into the water to catch turtles by hand, and Chua was right there ready to jump all day long. He even caught by hand his very own turtle, and the grin as he was hauled on board went beyond ear to ear. Imagine what it must have felt for him to be in his own living Nat Geo style adventure. And catching his very own turtle.
We talked long into the nights about turtles – their biology, their management needs, and what people could do to help. He said’ ‘Nick, my boats are ready for the TEDs – let’s work on reviving the programme.” One trip. One face to face encounter for a turtle. A turtle convert for life.
We are grateful to the Save our Seas Foundation for making moments like this come true. Small steps, we know, but important ones. What a learning experience!