Lang Tengah Turtle Watch 0 582

Everyone loves beaches, the warm sand, the blue water, the bright sun, it all just works. Ask anyone who has had the privilege of going to a beautiful beach and they’d tell you there’s really nothing quite like it. 

However, as many of us are aware, pollution at beaches is a global problem affecting every single coastline. This pollution doesn’t just negatively contribute to the aesthetics of a beach but more importantly, it severely affects the wellbeing of all the wildlife that inhabit the area.  

Amongst the wildlife that is severely affected are the turtles. In Malaysia, there are four species of turtles that are native to our oceans. They are vital for the underwater ecosystem and play a crucial role in maintaining coral reef health. Sadly, the turtles have been struggling to survive due to the overexploitation of coral reefs and pollution, The number of turtles in our country has declined by 99 per cent since the sixties.

Egg poaching is another factor contributing to the extinction of the species with there being no laws to protect eggs from being poached and sold. Although in Sabah and Sawarak, the hunting and selling of turtle eggs have been banned, no such rules apply to Peninsula Malaysia. 

These aren’t the only issues that have played a role in the decreasing number of turtles in our ecosystem, however, all hope is not lost. At Lang Tengah Turtle Watch, they work hard towards conservation and protection. 

We spoke to Amelin Bhullar, who just completed her internship, to understand a little more about the work they do:

Why turtles?

For me personally, it has a lot to do with turtles being positively associated with school holidays, as a kid we would drive out to a turtle conservation centre. I absolutely loved seeing the hatchlings. As I got older I knew I wanted to be involved with something so selfless. A major factor that even further made me want to get involved was because turtles are rapidly becoming endangered and we must conserve turtles for the good of biodiversity, ecological and marine health. They play a big part in maintaining seagrass beds and are an integral part of the marine food web. They’ve been around a really long time and don’t deserve to go extinct just because humans can’t get their shit together.

What does a day look like at Lang Tengah?

We have two project sites, each one very exciting and different from the other. At Tanjong Jara, where we are at, it involves leaving the bed and checking on hatchlings at our hatchery at 5 am. Hatchlings naturally leave their nests at night and we check our nests for any eager hatchlings ready to go swimming and release them where it’s nice and dark! Around 9 am we then collect nests delivered to us from beaches outside our district and bury them at our hatchery. These nests are then available for adoption.

In the late afternoons, we do post-emergence inspections where we dig up nests that have had a mass emergence (when hatchlings come out in a large group, this usually happens once or twice per nest) from at least a week prior.

At night, we prep ourselves for mother turtles who show up on our beaches to lay their nests. We depend on our rangers to patrol the beaches and find turtles in the dark, they call us as soon as they find one – this can happen at any hour of the night. We rush out of bed and head over to where the mother turtle is, take pictures, collect data and wait for her to lay eggs so that we can retrieve the eggs and relocate them to the safety of our hatchery. All of us have gotten used to being perpetually sandy at every hour of the day. Sand, everywhere…

We work around the clock here. At our project site in Lang Tengah, we do not have the luxury of rangers, so we take turns patrolling every hour from evening to morning. Our days there are wonderfully filled with snorkelling, hiking and general camp-site activities. We have week-long volunteer opportunities for people who would like to experience a rustic, bare-bones camp experience while playing a positive part in turtle conservation.

Do you find that organisations like Lang Tengah can genuinely keep the turtles from going extinct or is stricter legislation necessary?

It really is hard to tell, there are just too many factors playing a heavy role in whether turtles will end up extinct or not. At Lang Tengah Turtle Watch, we focus on ensuring turtle eggs are kept safe for hatchlings to successfully emerge and go to sea. There’s very little we can do for baby turtles who are at sea, it would depend on nature and other anthropogenic factors on whether the turtles survive long enough to mature into adulthood. 

Stricter legislation would be fantastic, but we also need cooperation from related stakeholders to ensure that rules and laws are being followed. A complete ban sounds ideal, only until black market loopholes and internal corruption takes place. Just like other conservation and environmental efforts, it takes time for us to see results and it takes at least 25 years for green turtles to reach sexual maturity and lay eggs. Despite everything in our way, like plastic pollution, rising sea levels and habitat destruction, we are hopeful our efforts mean something a few decades from now when the same hatchlings we release to come back to lay their nests on our shores.

How many turtles per year do you hatch?

So far, this year we have retrieved 18,724 eggs! And 10,609 hatchlings have left our hatchery, which makes us so happy. They grow up so fast. Last year, we had 9801 eggs and 7154 hatchlings in total. Clearly, things are getting better.

What are some ways everyday individuals can help in ensuring the turtles are safe?

There are heaps of things every day people can do. One of the major problems we are tackling is plastic waste. Just about anyone can use reusable shopping bags and avoid single-use plastics. That would be a great first step. Global heating and rising sea levels are major threats to our darling turtles. As of late, it has become a lot more popular for people to be vocal about their opinions on social media and to hold our lawmakers more responsible for pro-conservative legislation. All of us are capable of relating with pro-marine conservation causes. It’s as simple as not wanting to see coral reefs disappear within this century and discussing it with people around you. Participating in environmental movements to push for a green future is something everyone can consider along the way. 

Apart from turtles, are there any other projects you guys have going on?

We actually incubate painted terrapin eggs at our hatchery and at Lang Tengah island, we are involved with coral reef restoration. Painted terrapins are critically endangered and we do the same for them as we do for turtles, retrieve their eggs, relocate them to our hatchery and release the hatchlings when they have emerged.

Despite the fact that covid has been so detrimental towards us humans, it has generally been good for the environment – did covid positively impact the turtles and the ocean life that surrounds them?

Again, this is really difficult to tell. Initially, it seemed like it was ideal, less humans and activity would mean some relief for the turtles and that the environment gets to heal. However, the Covid-19 pandemic crash-landed at a time when over-consumption was already at detrimental levels. I can only imagine the number of plastic face masks that have washed into the ocean, the food takeaway containers and the amount of plastic packaging from a surge of online shopping. 

Sure it would mean that things had slowed down in many industries, reducing pollution and habitat loss, that perhaps there would be less carbon output affecting global heating. Fewer tourists and beach activity is great for turtles, who like to avoid humans when nesting. We have noticed that turtles are coming up to more beaches that were constantly frequented by people before Covid-19.

It’s clear that for Lang Tengah Turtle Watch, turtle conservation is passion-driven – exactly what we need during these times. Even though it is a lot of work with a long wait-time for results, it is so important to continue hard work such as this. If you want to find out more about them, check out their website: https://www.langtengahturtlewatch.org/

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Picha Eats 0 802

Creating Empowerment Through Food

A soon to be household name, Picha Eats is a social enterprise that aims to create a sustainable and equitable ecosystem for refugees in Malaysia through the one thing we can all relate to – food! Founded in 2016 by Lim Yuet Kim, Lee Swee Lin and Suzanne Ling, they provide boxed meals, catering, open house experiences and shelf products all produced by refugees. As a company, Picha Eats embodies what it means to be a responsible business. They work for profit, but do so in a way that is thoughtful to their community. 

After working as teachers at a refugee learning centre, the three women noticed that many children had to drop out due to financial troubles. They sought a solution to empower the families of these children. Realising the value of empowerment as a crucial part in creating a sustainable business model; they wanted to create something that wasn’t about giving handouts, rather, about training individuals to be able to provide for themselves. On the most basic level, near or far, we are all connected by food. Especially in a country like Malaysia where food is a vital part of our culture and is seen as something so meaningful to many of us. Picha Eats goes further to make this connection even more meaningful by giving customers the opportunity to eat good food while also supporting a pervasive cause. 

Social enterprises have a unique position in the economic market, they disrupt the traditional notions of business by tying in the community-serving nature of NGOs and non-profits with the traditional for-profit model. With Picha, by creating an empowerment-based system which is equitable, they are able to sustain both the refugees who work for them and the business itself. They are a business which is for the community and by the community. Their financial model works in a 50/50 way; if they make 1 million in a year, 500,000 goes right back to the refugee chefs who work and sell their products. So when it comes to bottom lines, they are focused on the finances and the numbers above all else because that’s how they measure their impact. If they are able to make enough to provide a liveable income for all their employees, then they’re hitting their goals. 

Although they are a financially-minded business, their mission is rooted deep in changing the mindset and perception of refugees in Malaysia. To those of us who have access to the internet, higher education and reading materials,  we are able to learn and understand more about the refugee crisis. But there are a lot of people in our country who do not have such access, and because of this there are many people who believe in notions like “all refugees live in camps” or “refugees want to be in Malaysia”. These can’t be further from the truth. What Picha tries to do to combat these perceptions is educate their community through stories of empowerment. They never frame their content around pity, it’s about showing that upliftment is possible and that it is important to focus on a narrative that exemplifies resilience. At the end of the day, being a company that works so closely with a hugely marginalised community, bringing awareness and rewriting the narrative is at the heart of what they do.

The Zaza Movement

The Zaza Movement is a project under Picha Eats where individuals can purchase meals to give to someone in need. This movement started in 2017 when one of the chefs – A Syrian man named Zaza –  had gotten cancer. Two weeks before he passed, he spoke about how he wanted to cook chicken mandi and give it out to the people at the Mosque. Moved by this, the team started the Zaza Movement to do exactly this – bring good food to the communities who need it. During the MCO, many families struggled to put food on the table. Seeing this need, Picha worked to sponsor food for the B40 community and the front-liners. They managed to distribute 25,000 meals, had 293 meal sponsors and delivered to 31 locations. It is a truly beautiful message, to have refugees working hard to give back to a community that doesn’t always view them in a positive light. It is perception-changing, it is doing the right thing and it is putting the community first. 

Picha Eats is a force to be reckoned with, throughout their four years of existence their growth has been extraordinary to watch. To date, they have managed to give back 2 million to their chefs. They started with just one chef making meals in her home, but have gone on to have been part of Urbanscapes, have a pop-up store at Ben’s Independent Grocer and even catered over 600 corporate functions. For a community that often struggles with making ends meet, this type of success and this type of recognition is extremely meaningful. Picha makes it possible for them to enter the economic market in Malaysia and earn a sustainable income, changing the pre-established rhetoric surrounding refugees. They’re not here to play, their hard work has made them on par with other Malaysian cafes, exemplifying that a business rooted in sustainable responsibility can exist in the same playing field as the more traditionally run businesses.

Picha stands out as one of the most successful social enterprises in Malaysia. They set an example as to how to make a business equitable, proving that working for a cause can be profitable. In this increasingly mindful society, we believe that businesses like this will come out on top. We look forward to seeing how Picha Eats will grow from this point forward, if it looks anything like the past 4 years – we’re in for a delicious treat!

Check out Picha Eats: https://pichaeats.com/

 

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H2GO 0 1024

When was the last time you thought about water? 

When we think about water, we think of long baths, ice-cold drinks and big bodies of water we can jump into. As people who live in developed cities and towns, we don’t often think about water apart from the times we’re looking to enjoy it. We don’t worry about whether we’ll be able to have a glass of water with our meals, if we’ll have enough water for a shower or if we’ll be able to clean our homes. We don’t think about water and how important it is to our lives because we have it all the time.

But for 4.2 billion people around the world, clean water, proper sanitation and hygiene are out of reach. Over 6,000 children die every day from lack of clean water, 485,000 die from diseases due to contaminated water and over 200 million hours are spent daily by women and girls collecting water. Even in our own country of Malaysia, where it seems like water is abundant for all, 73% of the rural community don’t have access to clean water. Water poverty is a global problem and has been for a long time. It is a tough issue to overcome and may take years to truly be solved but with companies like H2GO – there is hope.

H2GO is a water technology company which aims to eradicate water poverty globally. They believe that clean drinking water is a right for everyone living on earth and that it should be easily accessible to all those who need it. At the heart of the company is Dr.Rajiv. The founder of H2GO, he is soft spoken and humble, but his work speaks volumes. Over the course of 10 years, H2GO has brought clean water to over 2.5 million people all over the world – with an active presence in Columbia, Ghana, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia. Through remarkable technology: a water filter that is able to produce safe to drink water from unclean sources.

The technology is seemingly simple, you fill the bottle or tank with dirty water and when you dispense it, the water is clean and safe for consumption. It works almost like a magic trick, within seconds water that is brown in colour and full of sediment is completely filtered and crystal clear. This technology has been integrated into systems that work for communities, families and individuals. They are easy to use, don’t need to be plugged in and require maintenance only once every few years. A communal tank can filter 2 million litres of water, which approximately lasts around 3 years. After this, all that needs to be done is to have the cartridge replaced and then it’s good to go again for another 3 years.

When watching a demonstration of how the water bottles worked, I was amazed.  How could governments all over the world not already supply these to remote communities or even those affected by disaster? This technology seems like a clear solution to this worldwide problem. 

However, it’s not always that simple. Global water poverty can be eradicated with approximately 6 billion USD; although it is a lot of money, billionaires all over the world have more than enough to solve the water crisis and go on living wealthy lifestyles. The question of why they don’t remains unanswered and is incomprehensible to most, unfortunately that is just the current state of the situation.

Water poverty is an issue that discriminates. It only affects the poor. It is rarely spoken about because it affects invisible people whom society deems as less important. It doesn’t affect the urbanites, the politicians or anyone living a comfortable life. That’s why it’s not a hot and trendy issue, because we just don’t see ourselves in the people who are affected.

Why Water?

Despite the immense impact that H2GO has made on water poverty, it is but a drop in the bucket of the global water crisis. Choosing water as a cause to champion comes with taking on an incredibly daunting challenge. Water poverty is a pervasive, historical cause – it isn’t new and trendy, but a traditionally difficult issue to tackle. 

When asked; “Why water?” Dr.Rajiv gives a clean and simple answer – I was in the right place at the right time. He came across the technology at a military expo and after doing more research on the global state of water, he decided to take on this cause. He explained that living on the blue planet where technology has become so advanced, it is unbelievable that there are so many people living surrounded by water but yet without any they can consume. The passion at H2GO is palpable, they understand that clean water is a pathway to a better life for many. In bringing about proper hydration and sanitation, clean water allows for individuals to pursue a better life – one where the simple act of drinking water is no longer a barrier.

Photo Credit: Reuters/Benoit Tessier

In some places of the world, 1 in 2 girls drop out of school at puberty purely because there is no access to sanitation. Clean water gives young girls the opportunity to elevate themselves. As women, their sole purpose is often to get up in the morning, walk 7-8 hours to collect water which is likely contaminated. With these systems, they will no longer have to do this and will be able to get second jobs, start their own business, or do whatever it takes to empower themselves, their families and their communities. In the developing world, trillions of dollars are lost through women and girls being held back. Clean water is a gateway for empowerment, upliftment and growth within these parts of the world. It is barrier breaking. 

Doing Business With a Mission

At the end of the day, H2GO is a for-profit business with a community-driven mission. Their business has 2 sides to it, the main side is profit driven, selling their products at all levels (individuals, corporations, governments). The other side is non-profit, where they fundraise and conduct donation drives in order to place these systems where they are needed. Their business runs on a sustainable model and all fundraising is purely for the beneficiaries and not for the business. They have zero debt and have never had to raise money for their business expenses. H2GO can stand tall next to other tech companies, they are able to be competitive in their market and do so with heart. 

In the next decade, they’re looking to scale up. In the first 10 years they were able to reach 2.5 million people, in the next ten they’re looking to reach 200 million people. With such a massive cause, it is hard to feel satisfied with the work that has been done because it will never feel like enough until water poverty is eradicated all over the world. 

“Nobody is too small to make a difference – small acts of kindness is what amounts to real change.”

The Power of Hope

 Dr.Rajiv speaks in a way that will leave you feeling inspired. He acknowledges that having a goal of eradicating water poverty can be seen as naive but believes that as long as we continue to dream and believe we will continue to achieve. The day we start limiting ourselves in what we are able to do is the day that things will start to stagnate. Our greatest power is our ability to hope.

After speaking to the team at H2GO, I was left with a sense of immense hope for the future. Regardless of what your goal is, looking to companies like H2GO who do the tireless work that they do serves as an inspiration for all of us. And if there’s anything we can takeaway, it is that all of us need to strive to embrace that every life we touch is meaningful and important. For H2GO they were able to touch millions of lives, but they got there by starting with just one.

Check out H2GO

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