The unique role of the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Honorary Wildlife Wardens (HWWs) was highlighted and promoted at the recent Turtle Week conservation event, held at the PADI 5* IDC dive operator Scuba Junkie’s resort on Pulau Mabul.

Scuba Junkie’s Turtle Week, back for its third year by popular demand, has a successful history of raising awareness of turtle conservation through its unique outreach programmes, which involve both tourists to Sabah and local communities, schools, colleges and universities. This year was no exception, with presentations and conservation activities carried out in both Bahasa and English.

UMS, Green Semporna and Kolej Komuniti responsible snorkelling activity with HWWs

Prominence in all activities was given to Honorary Wildlife Wardens from the Semporna region – Muhammad Adzmin of Green Semporna and Arapat Bin Abdurahim, Dionne Sherrys Guerzo and Mohammad Khairuddin Bin Riman from Scuba Junkie.

The HWWs were trained in Semporna in March by representatives of the Sabah Wildlife Department. They act as the SWD’s ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground, combating illegal wildlife crime by helping to strengthen enforcement, alerting the authorities to any suspicious activities and violations that threaten the survival of Sabah’s protected wildlife.

Mabul, an island off the cost of Sabah, Borneo, is known for the abundance of turtles for divers and snorkellers alike, despite the fact that some species of sea turtle are listed as ‘endangered’ and others ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN red list. The HWWs in the Semporna region provide valuable ‘on the ground’ information and a management system for the protection of turtles there – being involved in hatcheries as well as monitoring the area for protection compliance, and alerting the SWD if there are injured or sick turtles in the area.

“We are honoured that three of our staff were able to do the HWW training with the Sabah Wildlife Department” stated Ric Owen, Director of Scuba  Junkie. “We are only too happy to showcase the unique role they have in the region, and assist the work of the Sabah Wildlife Department. Advice and guidance from the Sabah Wildlife Department has been invaluable to us at Scuba Junkie over the past few years in the development of our Mabul Turtle Hatchery and Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.”

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Turtle Week was organised in conjunction with the local conservation group, Green Semporna, who run numerous conservation programmes in Semporna. Green Semporna have a close working partnership with Scuba Junkie, with both collaborating several times a year on marine-focused conservation events – suitable for all ages and with an emphasis on fun to ensure as many people get involved as possible.

“It has been an amazing week” said David McCann, Environmental Officer for Scuba Junkie. “I have especially enjoyed working with the volunteers from Green Semporna and the students from Community College, Semporna and Universiti Malaysia Sabah – all of which completed our sea turtle conservation workshop. Everyone really enjoyed the workshop and left Mabul more aware of the plight of sea turtles and conservation measures that can be taken to help ensure this region remains a stronghold for generations to come.”5

Norasmah Jaafar, Director of the Community College in Semporna, agreed. “It was fantastic to see so many young minds brought together to share their enthusiasm and optimism in protecting their environment. It was really beneficial for them, especially the UMS group, to practically learn and get involved in the programme outside their classroom norm. The participants also got to know more about the role and responsibilities of HWWs –  they are role models for students to look up to. The Ministry of Higher Education Warrior Cries – ‘soaring upwards’ is appropriate.”

Tourists at the Mabul Beach Resort also had star guest appearances one night – when a nest of 89 green turtles hatched and were released into the sea by the HWWs. “The nest hatching really put the icing on the cake for our Turtle Week”, continued David. “It is an incredible experience, one I never tire of. For our guests to witness this, and the HWWs at work, it was perfect!”