“It’s an amazing journey!” For a green turtle (Chelonia mydas), to return to where her life begun some 30+ years ago, it has to escape from the countless challenges from hunting, pollution, habitat destruction and many other threats. 21 students from the College of International Education (CIE), Hong Kong Baptist University, has witnessed such a magical moment for this endangered animal on the Selingan Turtle Island in Sabah within a well-managed sea turtle sanctuary to lay her eggs. Including students from CIE Associate Degree Programmes, including Environmental Conservation Studies and Geography and Resources Management concentration studies, and self-funded Undergraduate Programme – Environmental Resources Management, under the supervision from experienced staff of the conservation site and Dr. Alan Leung, Course Coordinator of Environmental Conservation Studies, they were altogether observing directly the conservation management measures to protect sea turtles under a sky full of stars.
During the 6-day trip between 24-29 June 2019, CIE students were not only able to observe the natural habitats for marine organisms, such as sea turtles, corals, reef fishes and sea cucumbers, they also had the opportunities to enter some core areas of the tropical rainforests and the associated river networks. For examples, in the Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre, the ground-level trails and the tree-top canopy walk allowed students to explore various creatures at different vertical levels of the forests. Students were also immersed themselves (on small boats!) in the Kinabatangan River to search for endangered species and wildlife, such as the proboscis monkeys (Nasalis larvatus) and orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus).
Students were also able to meet with leading experts to have a deeper understanding on Sabah ecology and conservation. Mr. Casey NG from the Forever Sabah initiative introduced the river ecology of the region, with specific focus on freshwater fish ecology and taxonomy. Dr. S.T. Wong, the founder and director of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, introduced the ecology of Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) and their threats (e.g. hunting & deforestation) caused by human, as well as the conservation efforts to save this threatened species.
Although Borneo is remote from Hong Kong, students understood that the two places are closely linked, as Hong Kong is a key importer and trader of biological resources, such as seafood, timber products, palm oil products and various non-timber forest products, from the Southeast Asia. During the one-hour speedboat journey between Sandakan city to the Turtle Island, students were shocked by the amount of plastic rubbish they encountered in the sea supposed to be pristine, while they were reminded the importance of sustainable living.
“It’s a journey of reflection!” As global citizens, students have strengthened their senses of conservation and enhanced their awareness on our responsibilities to environmental protection.