Located 22 kilometres north of Kuala Dungun and 80 kilometres south of Kuala Terengganu, Rantau Abang used to be one of the most talked tourist attraction in the state of Terengganu, Malaysia. There was once a time where a huge number of giant leatherback turtles came here to lay their eggs from May to August. The peak egg laying months are between June and July.
The reason why these huge numbers of giant leatherback turtles choose Rantau Abang was due to its favourable beach terrain that has a steep and deep slope for the giant leatherback turtles to land straight up on the beach. These turtles would have to spend much more energy wading through a fair distance to find a suitable nest that is closer to the vegetation line if the beach has a shallow and gradual slope The objective of these turtles is to conserve as much energy as they can for what they have to do later hence they love coming to Rantau Abang as the beach area meet their objectives. The turtles are known to return back to the same breeding grounds often. Rantau Abang was one of the only six places in the world that was visited by these giant leatherback turtles between the months of May and September.
Each female turtle nests about between 5 to 9 times per season and the male turtle rarely or never comes up to the shore. In the 1950’s, there were up to 11,000 nestings reported at Rantau Abang. Visitors can then lie down quietly from midnight to dawn to watch these giant leatherback turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. The sight of the giant leatherback turtles slowly lumbering up the white sandy beaches of Rantau Abang to lay their eggs is a memorable sight to behold.
Unfortunately, by 1999, this amount has staggeringly dropped to only 10 nestings. There are a number of factors that attributed to this steep decline in numbers. During the early years when there were no rangers to monitor the Rantau Abang beach, local tourists was seen riding on the turtles, shining flashlights into the turtle’s eyes, pulling their flippers and doing all sorts of terrible misconducts at these poor creatures. Being extremely sensitive creatures, turtles are not accustomed to such sudden stress. To make things worse, there were a lot of trawlers scouring around the coastal waters and pollution was seen around the coastline. Giant leatherback turtles and other types of turtles were also often trapped in nests that slowly drowned them and this amounts up to 100,000 killings every year worldwide and causing turtles to become extinct. Adding to their misfortune, their turtle eggs are also poached by local people to sell in the markets. It was claimed by the locals that these turtle eggs are a local delicacy and have beautifying and aphrodisiac properties despite no scientific proofs to these claims. Studies have reported that the nutritional value in these turtle eggs is lesser than the chicken egg. However, turtle eggs are still being sold in markets around the state of Terengganu and this will continue to go on until the local authorities realize the importance of protecting these giant leatherback turtles at its lifecycle and development and bring the former glory back to Rantau Abang.
Without these turtles present on Rantau Abang, the former tourist attraction will definitely fall into shambles. It is recently said that none of the turtles has been sighted for quite some time over the last couple of years. As result of this disaster, many of the resorts and outlets in Rantau Abang has run out of business and have been abandoned due to lack of business. The place that used to be a busy seaside resort where people can come to admire giant leatherback turtles laying eggs has now become just a place for refilling the fuel. To face this issue, the Turtle and Marine Ecosystem Centre has been built in Rantau Abang to help spearhead the conservation efforts.
Sadly, the only turtles that you get to see these days are the stuffed exhibits at the Turtle Information Centre located on the main road. If you happen to be here, it is worth visiting this Turtle Information Centre as it provides useful information and it serves as a sad reminder of what has been lost in Rantau Abang. The centre also showcases a documentary on it several times a day. However, there is still a small selected number of people that visit Rantau Abang to try their luck in sighting a real turtle. Turtle sighting has become something of a novelty among this group of people.
Other than the attraction of watching turtles laying their eggs, Rantau Abang also has a beautiful beach with clean orange colour sand clear water making it still a great place for swimming, sunbathing, relaxing and picnicking.
Accommodation at Rantau Abang
The Rantau Abang town seems to be more like a ghost town these days with lack of turtles and tourists. It is difficult to recommend any place to stay at Rantau Abang because there is no telling how long these motels will sustain themselves with no or lack of customers.
How to Get To Rantau Abang
A drive from Kuala Lumpur to Rantau Abang will take roughly about 3 hours to 3 hours and 30 minutes. There are also many coaches available that can bring you to Kuala Terengganu from different cities around Malaysia but most of these buses do not stop at Rantau Abang so you will have to inform the driver that you want to be dropped down at Rantau Abang.