Written by Vlada Kantorovitch based on an interview with Maddie Jones.
Maddie Jones, an eco-conscious travel enthusiast from Australia, spent this month volunteering abroad for the first time. She shares her experience contributing to two amazing regions in Malaysia. Maddie sheds light on how you can play a part in protecting the Malaysian environment, not to mention the wonderful creatures that inhabit it.
I have always been aware and passionate about environmental issues. From making sure to only buy eco-sourced clothing, to reducing my overall plastic usage. However this year I decided to turn it up a notch and contribute in a hands-on way, by volunteering in Malaysia! I volunteer regularly back home, but never had the opportunity to help overseas. After many days of research, I came across Ecoteer’s Rainforest & Turtle combination trip in Malaysia. The experience involves spending the first week trekking in the Taman Negara rainforest and interacting with the local Batek community. Then spending the two following weeks soaking up rays in the Perhentian Islands conserving turtles. Being an Aussie who grew up near the ocean, I have always had a love for it. However I also wanted to see more of what Malaysia has to offer, whilst aiding conservation efforts in any way I can.
My journey started with The Merapoh Rainforest Station. At the project I got stuck into a lot of fun activities. For instance, I completed multiple breathtaking treks in the rainforest whilst deterring poachers and looking for animal pug marks. As well as participated in caving, and getting to meet the incredible indigenous Batek tribe.
Trekking (the right way) will always have a special place in my heart. When venturing deep into the forest all you can hear is the sound of nature all around you. Although sometimes challenging due to the humidity, it taught me to persevere and enjoy being in nature while I can. Both our Batek guide Atu and the project manager Izereen shared with me their amazing knowledge of the rainforest and jungle critters. And most importantly taught me truly respect this unique environment. Because after all you can’t appreciate and successfully conserve the forest without fully understanding how the fragile ecosystems interact with each other.
The weekly schedule continued with an exhilarating caving experience. I explored the ancient limestone caves Merapoh is famous for, whilst simultaneously helping conserve them. The caves are unfortunately constantly under threat from quarrying. However by increasing tourism to the caves Ecoteer are showing the government the economic value they can have. Thus protecting them for years to come.
Although I loved everything about my week in the jungle, the absolute highlight was playing soccer and mucking around with with the Batek kids. I am a teacher back home so getting to meet and play with the children was very special to me. The kids are so full of life, happy and wild at heart; freely climbing trees and playing outside any chance they get.
Weeks 2 and 3
Although already a once in a lifetime experience, I broadened my horizons and set off to the beautiful paradise islands of Perhentian. I was eager to get stuck in and conserve turtles and the marine environment. The crystal blue sea and stunning beaches were remarkable, however nothing can compare to the worthwhile and rewarding work I did with the project.
I completed snorkel surveys to take photo ID of foraging turtles, night patrols to help mother turtles lay their eggs, and important coastal clean-ups around Perhentian. I will never forget releasing a nest of hatchlings back into the sea. Watching these tiny dark figures sprint across the sand and disappear into the ocean was truly amazing. As was the rare opportunity for me to help a morning turtle lay her eggs, as we ID-ed the mother, collected data and relocated her clutch within our hatchery.
Contributing to conservation
However, what I loved the most about these past two weeks was that I made a real difference to so many Perhentian turtles and marine life. This made even the most stressful or exhausting moment all worth it. For instance, after discovering a termite invasion in our hatchery, the team and I worked tirelessly to excavate and save as many eggs as possible. And although some sadly didn’t make it, it was great to know that most hatchlings survived due to our hard work. Furthermore, I cleaned up not only the beaches, but also the sea! A kayak back to the village after a snorkel survey, usually taking 20 minutes, took an hour as we constantly stopped to clear any plastic floating in the water.
Overall I had an absolutely incredible three weeks contributing to causes I care deeply about and learning all about the colourful Malaysian culture. The landscapes are breathtaking, the people are beyond welcoming, and the wildlife is more than worthy of saving. I can’t recommend this experience enough. Volunteering abroad has really opened my eyes to the positive impact I can create in the environment around me. Therefore, I will definitely be returning (hopefully for a longer stint) next year!
If Maddie’s adventure in Malaysia sounds like something you’d like to experience, volunteer for rainforests and turtles in 2019.