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  Channel NewsAsia 21 Aug 07
Malaysia famed Trengganu turtle beach sees no nestings so far this year

KUALA LUMPUR : The leatherback turtle population in Malaysia has collapsed, with not a single nesting sighted so far this year, despite ongoing conservation efforts.

The eastern Terengganu coast in Malaysia used to be one of the largest nesting sites for the endangered leatherback turtle in the world, where thousands of female leatherbacks - having crossed the Pacific Ocean - return to the place they were born. In the last two decades, their numbers have dwindled drastically.

Last season saw just two nests on the beach, and this year, there's been none sighted so far. This is in spite of strict laws protecting nesting sites and efforts to build hatcheries.

"It's difficult to get the leatherbacks to return. They've become almost extinct. How can we breed them when we can hardly find their eggs," said Arifin Embong, Official, Local Fisheries Department.

Conservationists and wildlife experts were in Malaysia recently and called for an immediate action plan to halt the decline. They blame global climate change, egg harvesting and increased coastal fishing for upsetting the turtles' breeding habits.

"There has been a lot of fishing, so turtles have been caught in hooks and nets. Also, people have been eating more of the eggs, so what we are trying to do is to make everybody aware of what's going on and to get them onboard to save the leatherbacks," said Kitty Simonds, Executive Director, Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.

Experts said the number of leatherback turtles in the Pacific has fallen to just 5,000, from over 90,000 in 1980.

While efforts are ongoing to protect nesting sites and boost hatching production not just in Malaysia but also across Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and the Solomon Islands, experts said a long-term fund-raising plan is very much needed to secure funding from both the public and private sectors to ensure the success of the rescue programmes over the next 20 years. - CNA /ls

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