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  Bernama 13 Aug 07
Turtles End Up As Exotic Dishes?
By Nor Shamsiah Mohd

KUALA TERENGGANU -- Despite the various campaign on conservation of turtles, this marine life form is facing serious threats against its existence.

The turtles are being hunted down for its eggs, and it is no secret that turtle meat has made its way to restaurant selling exotic dishes.

The seizure of tens of turtles from a China fishing trawler which had encroached the waters of Sabah last April is the evidence that turtle meat is in high demand in the international market.

According to studies, four of the world's turtle species can be found in the waters of Malaysia. Hence, it is no surprise that foreign fishermen dare to encroach the country's exclusive economic zone just to hunt for this amphibian life form, which fetch a high price in the market.

Penyu Belimbing (Leatherback - Dermochelys Coriacea), penyu Agar (Green turtle - Chelonia Mydas), penyu Lipas (Olive Ridley - Lepidochelys Olivacea) and penyu Karah (Hawksbill - Eretmochelys Imbricata) are the four turtle species known to land at beaches in Malaysia.


According to the Terengganu Fisheries Director, Munir Mohd Nawi, a female turtle is considered matured when it reaches the age of 30. It is capable of laying eggs from the age of 50.

"The turtle usually returns to lay eggs at the spot where its mother used to land, as this amphibian is loyal and has a strong memory," he told Bernama here recently.

The turtle would usually take two to three hours to look for a nesting spot. After finding an ideal location, it begins to dig and after a hole is ready, the turtle starts to lay eggs. A turtle is capable of laying between 60 and 140 eggs each time, depending on the species. After laying eggs, the turtle will cover its nest, trying to camouflage it hoping that predators would not be aware of its existence.


Munir said this stage marks the start of the turtles' struggle for survival. The eggs are under not only threat from natural enemies like crabs, but also from a much bigger danger -- humans who like to hunt for the eggs.

"The eggs will take about 45 to 70 days to hatch depending on the turtle's fertility," he said.

Meteorological factors determine the sex of the soon to hatch turtles. Eggs in nests exposed to bright sunlight at temperatures between 29 and 32 degrees Celsius are likely to produce female turtles.

As for eggs in nests at cooler spots like that under the shade of trees, with temperatures at between 27 and 29 degree Celcius, will produce male turtles.

"The young turtles would later emerge from the nests and rangers would release them to the sea," he said.


According to studies, only one out of the 10,000 young turtles released at sea is able to survive as in the ocean, they face many dangers like becoming the prey of fish and fishermen.

Realising that the turtles are faced with extinction if no conservation effort is carried out, the Turtle Marine and Ecosystem Centre (Tumec) had initiated conservation measures as provided by the State Turtle Enactment 1951 (Amendment 1987).

Via this programme, measures like turtle nesting area management, hatching and releasing, population monitoring, supervision and enforcement as well as public education and awareness are held.

Under the turtle nesting area programme, 33 turtle egg laying zones have been identified and villagers are hired to assist authorities to patrol these areas, guarding them against poachers.

Munir said there were five Leatherback landings recorded last year (376 eggs). There were also 2,522 Green Turtle landings (224,719 eggs), and four Hawksbill landings (323 eggs). No landings by the Olive Ridley turtles were recorded.

"Compared to 2005, there was only one Leatherback landing that produced 90 eggs, 1,188 Green Turtle landings (101,326 eggs), eight Hawksbill landings (992) eggs) and no Olive Ridley landings," he said.

The Fisheries Department also buy the turtle eggs from 15 authorised turtle egg collectors at RM2.50 each for Leatherbacks (RM2.50 each), Green Turtle (RM1.70 each), Olive Ridley and Green turtle (RM2.00 each). -- BERNAMA

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