View Full Version : 10,000 to zero! Leatherback turtles near extinction in Malaysia

Mr T
11-25-2008, 15:16
The State of Terengganu was once famed for their turtles. Each night female Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) would make the long journey up the beaches of Rantau Abang and along the entire coast of Terengganu. In one season 10,000 leatherback turtle nests would be created by these huge creatures. The Leatherback turtle is the largest of the living marine turtles, being in excess of 3m and weighing just under 1 tonne. She is like no other living turtle with a soft carapace sporting a leathery skin istead of a hard shell which allows her to dive to depths of 1200m. The Leatherback population globally was estimated to be 35,000 females in 2004, unfortaunetly this number is dwindling fast and in Malaysia they are nearly extinct.

10,000 nests a season was the norm in 1950 but since 2000 only a handful of leatherback turtles have nested on the beaches of Peninsular Malaysia. The sharp decline from the largest nesting colony of leatherback turtles to zero is due to many reasons but turtle egg consumption is the focus of this article.

It is a local custom to eat turtle eggs in Malaysia. A custom that could spell the end of all turtles in Malaysia. The Department of Fisheries, Terengganu have banned the collection and trade of leatherback turtle eggs but trade in the other species of turtle is still legal. Turtle eggs are widely sold in local markets which is fuelling poaching of turtle eggs in other States of Malaysia who have banned all turtle egg trade such as Sabah and Sarawak.

Pre 1970's almost 100% of the eggs laid on the beaches of Terengganu would have been collected by the villages who harvest the free bounty. Unfortunately the effects of the turtle egg bounty was not seen immediately due to the ecology and long life of the turtles who can live up to 80 years old. It may be too late for the leatherback turtles in Malaysia as no eggs have produced healthy hatchlings since 2000. In June 2008 two females nested at Rantau Abang and the Department of Fisheries personell could find only 41 infertile eggs only half of what was expected, it is thought poachers had taken some of the eggs. The Department of Fisheries have considered using advanced reproductive biotechnology to fertilise the eggs using the semen from Green turtles. However the success of this artificial insemination has not been released. The fact of the story is that money makes the world go round and 1 turtle egg fetching USD1 and considering one green turtle nest consists of 100 eggs it is clear to see if there is a demand for turtle eggs there will always be poachers.

The Leatherback and Olive Ridley turtles are on the brink of extinction and apart from cloning they will be extinct once the last 5 female leatherbacks die. The lessons learnt from the extremely sad story of the leatherback turtles in Malaysia must be used to direct conservation of the two other marine turtles which nest in Malaysia Green and Hawksbill. If the demand for turtle eggs is reduced the supply and poaching will be decreased and this is what Prof. Chan of University Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) and the Great Marine Project (http://www.greatmarineproject.com/) want to do. In 2008 Chan started a petition where she aims to collect 1 million signatures of Malaysian people who vow never to eat turtle eggs again and ask for the banning in trade of all turtle eggs in Terengganu, the petition can be signed here (http://www.petitiononline.com/trrgumt/) . The Great Marine Project (http://www.greatmarineproject.com/) and UMT visited four coastal and island schools educating the children about the plight of marine and freshwater turtles. Education of children is of utmost priority for both and the GMP are extending this further in 2009 by initiating an 'after-school marine club' in conjunction with Reef Check Malaysia. The club is run on a monthly basis and was run in 2008 with great success on Tioman Island. One of the goals of the GMP is to run marine clubs at schools throughout Terengganu teaching the children about all things marine but with a focus on turtles. If we can reduce the demand for turtle eggs in Malaysia we can save the turtles.

For more information please visit Great Marine Project (http://www.greatmarineproject.com/)

Mr T

11-28-2008, 20:11
Hey Everybody!!!!!

About the Leatherback Trust (http://www.leatherback.org/pages/about.htm)

Please take the time to educate yourselves on this very critical topic, I just did.

If you're busy like I am, simply right click on the link and save it to your favorites list so you can read it later.

It only takes a second,.....DO IT!