Saving Sea Turtles & Coral at Gaya Island Resort
Gaya Island Resort offers the kind of beach-front pampering that dreams are made of, but alongside the luxurious Spa Village, idyllic villas, and golden sands, is also a marine centre that plays a vital part in the protection of endangered sea turtles and coral reefs. We caught up with the resort’s Resident Marine Biologist, Scott Mayback, to find out more.
Gaya Island Resort Marine Centre is nestled on Tavajun Bay, just five minutes boat ride (or a 45-minute trek) from the resort’s jetty. It is part of the protected Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, which is located within a group of five islands off Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia, each one fringed by coral reefs and home to important mangrove and primary forests.
The Marine Centre, which opened in October 2013, is committed to leading the community in marine conservation and advocates three conservation pillars: Turtle Rescue, Coral Reef Restoration, and Conservation through Education.
Gaya Island Resort Marine Centre’s turtle rescue project is the first of its kind in Malaysia and was set up following research that showed six out of seven species of sea turtles are either endangered or critically endangered worldwide, mostly due to fishing, over-development, pollution, or turtles getting stranded, caught unintentionally by fishermen or becoming sick or injured. Operating a Turtle Hotline, the marine centre is notified whenever there are injured or sick sea turtles in need and provides them with a safe environment in which to recover and be treated. To date, it has rescued, treated, and cared for 29 endangered green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and one critically-endangered Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata).
The marine centre's first successful rescue was Bobby, a sea turtle found floating, unable to dive down or even eat due an intestinal blockage caused by an infection. Bobby was nursed back to health over a five-month period and then released back to into the sea.
Earlier this year, Gaya, an endangered Green Turtle species became the centre’s latest rescue. Gaya came into the care of the resort's Marine Centre on 7th June 2023 after a local fisherman spotted it wandering close to the property and brought it to the attention of the team. An examination at the Marine Centre revealed that it was suffering from chronic debilitation, severe dehydration, and malnutrition.
"Our team immediately started Gaya's treatment plan which included a series of antibiotics and saline drips over a period of 30 days, together with multivitamins and a dietary programme,” explains Scott. "There was a major improvement in Gaya's digestive tract and its appetite slowly improved over time, with a steady increase in body mass from 4.4kg to 5kg after one month.”
Almost four months later, Gaya reached its ideal weight of 7kg and the team decided it was fit enough to be released back into the ocean.
Coral Reef Restoration
Corals cover less than 0.1% of the ocean floor, yet they provide a home to more than 25% of all marine species. Rising ocean temperatures and human impacts are putting the world’s coral reefs in danger – half of all tropical reefs have disappeared in the last century. The Gaya Island Marine Centre’s coral nursery plays a vital part in the restoration process.
In an initiative run in collaboration with the NGO Reef Check Malaysia, the 1,000 litre nursery establishes an artificial environment to aquaculture coral fragments that will be returned to the sea to help rejuvenate and enhance the natural reefs.
Conservation through Education
The Marine Centre’s educational programme provides engaging opportunities for resort guests and staff to further their appreciation of conservation. There are daily conservation talks, and guests are encouraged to get involved in future external outreach programmes as volunteers or sponsors. The marine centre also provides outreach to the local fishing communities by training the fishermen to use less harmful fishing practices, educating them on the benefits of conservation and implementing a recycling programme to reduce floating debris.
Scott is the first Resident Marine Biologist to be posted in the YTL Hotels group and believes tourism and conservation can go hand in hand. “In my time here, the conversation team has rescued 29 turtles, conducted experimental coral planting, mangrove planting, and sea grass planting,” he says. “Without tourism it is not as economically viable to conduct conservation works as without tourism money coming into people of all walks of life, they may not have the incentive to protect the environment.
“We also educate our guests on what we are doing and why. We don't simply take people into the reef without teaching them how to preserve it, or into the mangrove without teaching them the importance of the habitat. Instead, we offer a variety of conservation-based activities such as coral planting and mangrove planting. Hopefully in the future we can start a conversation fund for guests who wish to stay involved from home.”
Come and see the Marine Centre for yourself on our Captivating Holiday to Singapore & Gaya Island in Malaysian Borneo - discover the programme here