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Asia Dive News : Turtle nesting areas declining in Thailand

Sea turtle numbers are continuing to drop in Thailand as new dangers, including tourism and the accidental capture by commercial fishermen, add to the threat, said a senior government official.

Maitree Duangsawasdi, director-general of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, yesterday said in the last 20 years more than half of turtle nesting areas in Thailand have been decimated by human activities, particularly the construction of hotels and resorts.

He said coastal development to accommodate the growing tourism industry had made sea turtle nesting impossible because it can only take place on quiet beaches without artificial lights.

Nesting along beaches on the eastern coast of southern Thailand is no longer happening, said Mr Maitree.

Nesting is currently restricted to four islands in Phangnga province and on one island in each Chon Buri and Nakhon Si Thammarat provinces. He said there has been a significant drop in the number of sea turtle nests over the last 50 years.

Mr Maitree said that there have been reports of marine turtles dying when they are captured in fishing equipment.

''Turtles are still threatened by human activities,'' he said. ''Turtles use their lungs to breathe and can survive underwater for one or two hours. Getting trapped in nets can cause them to suffocate and drown eventually.''

Mr Maitree said there were other worrisome events that could threaten turtle numbers. One is warmer sea temperatures which can affect the natural hatching of turtles. This, he said, can cause mostly female babies to be produced, and thereby obstruct the reproduction process.

There are challenges which must be overcome before the reduction in turtle numbers can be solved, he said. These include loopholes in law enforcement and lack of public understanding about the rare species' importance.

The 24 nations, including Thailand, in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding have chosen 2006 as the Year of the Turtle. The aim is to increase understanding of and create awareness about conservation of the sea turtles, said Mr Maitree.

Mr Maitree's department will work with the World Wildlife Fund (Thailand) to come up with turtle conservation plans to enhance research and reduce threats from human activities.

''Many people still don't understand the importance of sea turtles to the ecology,'' said Mr Maitree. ''The turtles play a role in controlling biological diversity and balance.''

Source: Bangkok Post