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  The Star 7 Sep 06
Malaysia: Hope for near extinct turtles

KUANTAN: The number of leatherback turtles nesting on the shores of the country are declining but the famous marine turtles may make a comeback, at least in Cherating here due to efforts taken by the Turtle Sanctuary and Information Centre in the 1970s and 1980s.

According to Zakaria Sulaiman, a Fisheries Department officer who is in charge of the centre, eggs laid by the leatherback turtles in Rantau Abang, Terengganu, during those years were bought and hatched in Cherating.

The centre had successfully released hundreds of hatchlings into the sea, he added.

“Pahang already has a conservation programme to protect not only leatherback turtles but also the other three species that can be found in Malaysia - the Hawksbill, Olive Ridley and Green.

“We may not be seeing the leatherback turtles nesting here at the moment but the endangered species may make a comeback in 10 to 20 years time when they are matured enough and ready to lay eggs.

“All is not lost and to say that the population has become extinct is not true,” he said in an interview.

He agreed that the leatherback turtle was an endangered species but it had not become extinct yet as there were still a small number of the marine turtles that had landed in the Terengganu coastline.

To date, there were five landings recorded with two each in Chagar Hutan and Dungun and one in Rantau Abang, he added.

Zakaria said he was in Rantau Abang some time in June but missed watching the landing of a leatherback turtle that came to lay eggs totalling 60. “However, I saw the eggs taken to the hatchery where great care and attention will be given to ensure healthy hatchlings,” he said.

Zakaria also said based on feedback he had obtained from fishermen, there were sightings of the leatherback turtles in the sea.

He noted that there were many reasons which could contribute to the decline in population and among them were the people themselves, sea pollution that destroyed their feeding area and fishing methods.

“People used to harass the marine turtles while they were nestling while many of the feeding areas are polluted, forcing them to move elsewhere to find food. “The turtles were also often caught in fishing nets and they were either killed or sold for the meat is a delicacy for some people,” he added.

The centre's focus now is to protect the three remaining species of the marine turtles - Green, Olive Ridley and Hawksbill.

According to Zakaria, there had been 242 landings recorded in Cherating by Green Turtles and one by a Hawksbill this year. “To date, we have collected more than 20,000 eggs and released about 15,000 hatchlings to the sea. “We release between 50 and 100 hatchlings at 10.30pm every night,” he added.

It is one of the centre’s most popular programmes but those who wish to see the process must strictly follow several rules - they are not allowed to snap pictures, smoke cigarettes nor use a torchlight when the hatchlings make their way to the sea.

The centre, which is about 47km from here and located next to the popular Club Med beach resort, was set up in 1972 as a marine turtle hatchering centre and a conservation programme has been in place since then. It provides protection to the marine turtles on its 3.5km stretch of beach.

The centre receives annual allocation from the state government and also welcomes donations from the public and companies. For further information, the public can call 09-581 9087 or fax at 09-581 9124.

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