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  New Straits Times 19 Sep 06
Villagers cast wary eye at sea after turtle's sudden return
Thanks to alert from Loretta Ann Soosayraj

SUNGAI PETANI: The hawksbill turtle may be returning to the shores of Kota Kuala Muda here. This follows the discovery of a female turtle from the species at the beach of Kampung Kuala Tepi Sungai about 4pm yesterday.

A six-year-old boy, who saw the reptile struggling in the mud, ran back and told his fisherman father Ahmad Osman, 50, who raised the alert.

The turtle was believed to have been making its way back to the sea after laying eggs on the beach. It took six male adults to haul the reptile, weighing some 200kg, back to the sandy area. The villagers dug a hole and placed the animal inside it while waiting for high tide.

News of the landing, the first after 45 years, spread like wildfire and before long, hundreds of people came to witness the rare sight. Many took the opportunity to touch the turtle and take photos as some villagers stood guard to ensure that it was not harmed.

While many welcomed the return of the reptile, which made the beach its nesting ground some five decades ago, there were others who felt that it was a bad omen.

The latter were worried the surprise appearance was a harbinger of ill tidings, citing the December 2004 tsunami as an example when fish were washed ashore before the disaster struck.

Ahmad said the turtle appeared weak but seemed to have recovered when seawater was poured over it. "Itíll be great if the turtles are coming back. My parents used to tell me stories about them but I never thought I would see it in my lifetime."

Fisherman Ismail Mahmud, 55, who had seen these reptiles during his childhood, said it might have been the largest. "I am worried it is a sign that some bad things are coming."

According to the website www.wildasia.net, the hawksbill turtle is one of the smaller sea turtles with nesting sites on the shores of Terengganu, Johor, Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak, and perhaps Pahang, Kedah and Kelantan. It lives near coral reefs in tropical oceans and nests every three or more years, laying about 160 eggs that take 60 days to hatch. The reptile normally measures between 70cm and 90cm and weighs between 40kg and 90kg, with a combination of dark brown, yellow and brown shells.

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