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  Bernama 9 Aug 06
Leatherbacks Not Extinct In Malaysia, Says Turtle Centre

Bernama 7 Aug 06
Leatherback Turtle Declines In Number
By D. Arul Rajoo

BANGKOK, Aug 7 (Bernama) -- The endangered leatherback turtle population is effectively extinct in Malaysia and has deprived the country one of its most charismatic tourist lures, says a United Nations Environment Programme report.

Shedding light on the plight of the turtle species in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asian region, it says Malaysia offers one of the most dramatic, best-documented examples of decline in the nesting population of marine turtles.

"Leatherback turtles nest along the Terengganu coastline used to number in the thousands in the 1960s, but in recent years only a handful of infertile nests have been laid," it says in the 166-page report prepared for the memorandum of understanding on the Conservation and Management of Marine Turtles of the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia.

The report raises concern that these pre-historic creatures of the sea, which can grow up to 700kg or more, are in the decline.

The report says the main threats to leatherback turtles include mortality in fisheries, human egg harvest, depredation of eggs by pigs and dogs, and loss of critical habitats, especially beaches needed for nesting.

On the impact of the December 2004 tsunami on marine turtles and their habitats, an accompanying report says the tsunami had caused localised damage to turtle habitats in eleven countries. India, Thailand and Sri Lanka were the worst affected, with some nesting beaches completely destroyed.

Marine turtle conservation projects in these countries also suffered significant damage from the tsunami, including the loss of lives of conservation staff.

The report also confirms that there are four main areas within the wider Indian Ocean region where these gentle animals still come ashore to nest.

In South Africa, thanks to decades of persistent conservation efforts, the number of female turtles nesting each year on a key stretch of beach grew from just 10-20 in the 1960s to 100 in the 1990s but over the past four years, it declined to 20-40 animals.

"It's far too soon to say whether this is a long-term downward trend or simply a natural fluctuation in the population size. "But the turtles don't appear to have moved elsewhere as the number of leatherbacks in neighbouring Mozambique hasn't increased," says Dr George Hughes, one of the report's authors.

The United Nations Environment Programme says the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India were thought to harbour as many as 400-600 nesting turtles but the tsunami that struck the islands during the peak nesting season had seriously disrupted turtle nesting that year.

The situation in the Western Pacific nesting beaches seems brighter as a recent survey data suggests there are perhaps 1,000 nesting females in a population that is shared by West Papua -- Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. -- BERNAMA

Bernama 9 Aug 06
Leatherbacks Not Extinct In Malaysia, Says Turtle Centre

KUALA TERENGGANU, Aug 9 (Bernama) -- There has been a drastic decline in the leatherback population but turtles are not extinct in Malaysia, the Turtle and Marine Eco-system Centre (Tumec) here has assured.

Tumec head Kamaruddin Ibrahim said Wednesday that leatherbacks could still be seen landing and nesting on the shores of Terengganu.

"It is correct when one says the population of the leatherback has declined drastically, but the turtle has not become extinct here," he told Bernama, refuting a United Nations Environment Programme report from Bangkok that the endangered leatherback is effectively extinct in Malaysia.

Kamaruddin said in 2003, fourteen nesting places of the leatherbacks were discovered with 1,083 eggs. In 2004, five nesting places with 295 eggs were found and last year, one nesting place with 90 eggs.

"This year, we have found five nesting places with 336 eggs of two leatherback turtles." Kamaruddin said the discovery of the nesting places was evident that the leatherbacks were not extinct in the country.

He also said that Tumec had released almost 500,000 leatherback hatchlings into the sea since 1961, and that many of these were most likely to return to nest on the shores of Terengganu.

Tumec is also taking steps to protect and conserve leatherbacks by conducting patrols along the coast and sea, including ensuring that they are not trapped in the nets of fishermen.

"The patrols have resulted in the seizure of 17 nets of fishermen, including three in Rantau Abang and Kampung Jambu Bongkok, near Marang, yesterday," Kamaruddin revealed.

He said the state government had indicated its commitment to ensure the perpetuation of the leatherback with a RM200,000 allocation to Tumec this year for conservation of the turtle in Terengganu.

"Tumec will also support any endeavour at the international level to save the leatherbacks in Malaysia," he added. -- BERNAMA

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