Volunteering at Juara Turtle Project at Tioman Island, Malaysia, made for an immensely rewarding trip for the whole family. Your guide to the experience.
My family and I volunteered for a week together at a sea turtle conservation project on Tioman Island, Malaysia, as we wanted to give back a little as we travelled through Asia, and we love to supportive animal conservation rather than visit enclosures as we travel. Volunteering programs can be questionable and many do not accept children, but the Juara Turtle Project (JTP) is both very professional and family-friendly. And best of all, it was a lot of fun and we made friends from all over the world!
JTP Volunteer Tasks
Specific skills are not required to assist at JTP. We were able to help with all jobs, ranging from cleaning, painting, looking after plants and stray animals, monitoring the hatchery, making souvenirs, giving tours of the visitor center, and patrolling this beach on Tioman Island.
Twice a night, the beach is patrolled to check for tracks from nesting mothers, and volunteers are expected to help on a rotational basis. Each morning a boat patrol also heads out to monitor a secluded beach, and volunteers are able to help with that but are not required to. I loved the boat patrol, but my husband much preferred the beach patrol! Our kids got up a couple of times to help him with it too.
Most days we had an extra task to complete together too, like a beach clean-up, learning about turtles and coral from the marine biologists, and collecting recycling for the community. Other days a team-building activity was scheduled, including hiking to a nearby waterfall and cooking together. I really liked that we had a daily and weekly schedule, as it was nice to have the regular jobs each day but then try different activities too.
Sea Turtles on Tioman Island!
There are no guarantees that we would see some turtles while we were on Tioman Island, but as volunteers are sought over the nesting season, it was fairly likely. And we did get to see some little hatchlings, and some eggs too!
A couple of hatchlings emerged from a nest in the hatchery on our first night there. Most of the turtles had already left that nest before we arrived, but a couple arrived later and in time for us to see them. It was a very exciting start to our week! We got to assist with the excavation of that nest a few days later, and found seven more hatchlings still in there. Dante and Allegra were able to touch them very briefly and carefully, and they kept watch over the hatchlings while the excavation was completed. Then we released the hatchlings and watched them crawl over the sand to take their first swim, which was wonderful to see.
One morning the boat patrol discovered a full nest of eggs that had just been laid, which was quickly transferred to the hatchery to keep it safe. We got to see how this was done and assist with transferring the 130 eggs into their new nest, which is carefully replicated from the original site. And throughout the week we all kept checking a nest that was about to hatch, eagerly awaiting the chance to see a full nest of hatchlings! When we finally did it was worth the wait: watching the hundred or so little turtles scurrying to the water together was just incredible. They are amazing little creatures and most of them will not survive to adulthood, but witnessing the start of their life was full of hope.
The Atmosphere at Tioman Island’s JTP
This location on Tioman Island is a very welcoming space, which is run professionally by committed staff, and is constantly changing with new volunteers arriving and others leaving. We met lovely people of all ages from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Hungary, Australia, Italy, Switzerland, England, Spain and Germany, and we’re still in touch with many of them. Our kids were the only children volunteering at the time, but they still made friends and were included and respected by all of the adults.
JTP is open seven days a week, every single week, and there is a lot to do each day. They do close for two hours for lunch which gives everyone a chance to catch up on other things or have a good break, and they are closed by 5 pm each evening. There’s a nightly community volleyball match which many staff and volunteers watch or participate in, and many great locally-owned cafes in Juara Bay to grab some dinner.
Volunteering Costs and Further Information
Seven nights is the minimum stay required to volunteer, and it costs RM 1000 per week throughout the turtle season (mid-March – end of October) with discounts for children, longer stays or volunteering in the off-season. This includes fully cooked breakfast and lunch each day, shared accommodation and use of the JTP’s recreational equipment.
Tioman Island is off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, and we caught a ferry across from Mersing which takes two hours. From the port on the island it’s another half an hour in a taxi to reach Juara Bay, or you can hike through the island for two and a half hours instead.
For more information and photos from our volunteering experience, check out my blog post.