The best of both worlds on Tioman

  • The JapaMala resort occupies a prime hillside location on Tioman’s southwest coast.

    The JapaMala resort occupies a prime hillside location on Tioman’s southwest coast.

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Someone who’s been here even longer is American Charlie Fisher, who has spent four years directing the Juara Turtle Project, a volunteer-run sea turtle conservation program. The hatchery here helps to protect an average of 10,000 hawksbill and green turtle eggs annually, while also educating the public about the threats facing these endangered creatures.

“Unfortunately, whether you like it or not, tourism has played a role in this. Marine life here is dwindling because more resorts are popping up and there is an increased number of ferries coming here,” he explains stoically. However, because Juara is still relatively quiet with just one slither of a main road, scattered local huts, and small-scale tourist chalets, it is one of the few places left in Malaysia where female sea turtles still come to lay their eggs.

One night at high tide, I accompany Charlie and a few of his volunteers to scour the beach with red “turtle-friendly” lights. It is meticulous work, combing back and forth along the two-kilometer strand and gathering what data we can. But there’s not a fresh track to be found; no turtles have come ashore to lay eggs. According to Charlie, this is becoming increasingly common. Still, we end the night on a high note, sitting on the sand and gazing up at the cloudless night sky, which, thanks to minimal light pollution, appears encrusted with millions of diamonds.

The living in Juara is simple, and I end up sleeping a few nights in a tiny, un-air-conditioned wooden hut at the southern end of the bay. This turns out to be a blessing in disguise, for I discover the joy of waking up to the sound of hissing surf with the beach right at my doorstep. I’ll take that over the comforts of the resort-studded west coast any day.

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