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Asia Dive News : 2006 - The year of the turtle in Asia

March 1st marks the official start of the Year of the Marine Turtle within the Indian Ocean and South-East Asian region.

Today, six of the seven living species of marine turtle — hawksbill, olive ridley, Kemp's ridley, leatherback , loggerhead and green — are classified as “Endangered” or “Critically Endangered”.

"Concerted conservation efforts have seen turtle populations recover in some areas, but without urgent global action the future of these animals looks increasingly grim," said Dr Sue Lieberman, Director of WWF's Global Species Programme.

Marine turtles have swum in the world's oceans for over 100 million years. They are the only widely distributed marine reptiles and many species migrate for thousands of kilometres — and even across entire oceans — between feeding and nesting grounds. Regional cooperation is essential to ensure that turtles are protected at different stages in their life cycles.

Marine turtles have also been fundamental to the culture of coastal societies for millennia.

“Human activities over the past 200 years have massively tipped the scales against the survival of these ancient mariners,” says Elisabeth McLellan, WWF Asia Pacific Marine Turtle Coordinator.

“Slaughtered in the thousands for their eggs, meat, skin, and shells, they suffer from poaching and over-exploitation, as well as from capture in fishing gear and habitat loss. But there are places where concerted conservation efforts are making a difference to turtle numbers. We hope that this initiative galvanises countries to act together before it's too late.”

Some WWF activities to mark the Year of the Sea Turtle include: delcaring Derawan Island, one of the the biggest green and hawksbill turtle rookeries in South-East Asia as a Marine Conservation Area; monitoring and protecting nesting sites in and around Kenya's Kiunga Marine National Reserve; satellite tagging of marine turtles in Vietnam; intorducing circle hooks to tuna fleets in the Philippines to significantly reduce turtle bycatch; and establishing a joint research partnership (between Madagascar, Switzerland and France) on marine turtles in the South-West Indian Ocean.

• The Year of the Turtle is organized by the the Indian Ocean South-East Asian (IOSEA) Marine Turtle Memorandum of Undestanding. IOSEA is an intergovernmental agreement that aims to protect, conserve, replenish and recover marine turtles and their habitats of the Indian Ocean and South-East Asian region, working in partnership with other relevant actors and organisations.

• Countries involved in the IOSEA Year of the Marine Turtle include: Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Comores, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Kingdom, Tanzania, United States of America and Vietnam.

Source: WWF