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News 19 Jul 07
Small steps key to saving giant turtles: expert
Small and inexpensive steps could go a long way towards rescuing the Western Pacific's dwindling population of giant sea turtles, an expert said here Thursday.
Specialist Peter Dutton urged authorities to do more to preserve the state of leatherback turtles' nesting beaches to ensure eggs are hatched.
"The main issue here is there are eggs that are being laid but for some reason, they are not hatching," said Dutton, leader of the marine turtle research programme at the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
"But there are some relatively cheap things that can be done to get the leatherbacks back on the road to growing their population," he told AFP from Malaysia's eastern Terengganu state, where NOAA is holding a four-day conference to develop a long-term conservation plan for leatherbacks in the region.
Leatherbacks were once a star attraction in Terengganu, where they frequently nested.
None have been sighted in the last few years and overfishing, poaching and pollution have been blamed for killing them.
Leatherbacks are the largest turtles in the world and have been around for the past 75 million years, going through cycles of near-extinction and re-colonisation.
"The population recovers very rapidly in the period of 25 to 30 years," Dutton said in a telephone interview from the conference. According to data from the agencies organising the meeting, the number of nesting leatherback turtles in the Western Pacific region has plummeted to 5,000 from a once-thriving population of 91,000 in the 1980s.
Dutton said some of the biggest threats could be easily avoided, for example by not using coastal fishing nets at turtle nesting areas, and by giving coastal villagers economic incentives to protect the leatherbacks.
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