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Asia Dive News : Malaysian turtles are bidding goodbye

TERENGGANU - Despite conservation efforts, the Leatherbacks, which have witnessed the fall of the dinosaurs and the rise of humanity, have not returned to traditional nesting sites in the country.

The same appears to be happening to Olive Ridley and Hawksbill turtles.

For the first time in history, none of these species landed at the 34 traditional nesting sites in Terengganu in June and July.

The Turtle and Marine Ecosystem Centre (Tumec), which monitors turtle movements, hopes at least some turtles will nest at the traditional sites before the nesting season ends in early September.

Tumec also expressed concern over the drop in the number of Green turtle landings.

So far this year, only 1,500 have nested here compared with 3,086 last year.

Tumec director Dr Kamaruddin Ibrahim told the New Straits Times there were no recorded landings of Leatherback, Olive Ridley and Hawksbill turtles at prime nesting areas in Rantau Abang, Pulau Redang, Ma'daerah and Geliga in Kemaman, and Pulau Perhentian.

Last year, only six Leatherbacks came to nest in the State, compared with 14 in 2003.

Kamaruddin said the number of turtle landings was recorded by identifying turtle tracks on the beaches.

"Most turtles nest at night. Our experienced staff can identify the species from their flipper marks on the beaches," he said.

Although declining turtle landings are cause for worry, Kamaruddin optimistically noted that landings happened in cycles.

"Turtle species such as the extremely rare Leatherbacks do not nest yearly.

"Turtles only nest at beaches where they hatch. A turtle returns to the same nesting ground every alternate year," he said.

Kamaruddin said about half-a-million Leatherback hatchlings had been released since the 1970s, but only a few adults had made their way back to Terengganu to nest.

"We estimate that only one out of 1,000 turtles released into the sea survive," he said.

The State Government has gazetted stretches of beach in Rantau Abang in Dungun, Ma'Daerah and Geliga in Kemaman, Pulau Perhentian (Pantai Tanjung Tukas, Pasir Tiga Ruang, Pasir Pinang Seribu and Pantai Tanjung Guntung) and Pulau Redang (Pantai Cagar Hutang, Pantai Mat Kepit, Pantai Mak Simpan, Pantai Pasir Bujang and Pantai Che Keling) as turtle conservation areas.

Kamaruddin said habitat degradation had contributed to the decline in the turtle population, as beaches were also prime spots for development.

"Turtles are the pride of Terengganu. They have been nesting on our beaches for hundreds of years and we need all the support in our efforts to protect them."

Terengganu beaches are nesting grounds for four of the world's seven species of marine turtle, namely the Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley turtles. They are protected under the Fisheries Act 1985.

Leatherback and Hawksbill turtles are listed as critically endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species while Olive Ridley and Green turtles are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

Source: New Straits Times