Endangered turtles disappear from Malaysian nesting sites
KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Endangered turtles have disappeared from Malaysia's famous nesting beaches this year, with just one landing recorded compared to the thousands that used to lay eggs there, experts say.
The alarming development has raised fears that the turtles may be lost forever from the beaches, a big draw for tourists who come to watch the egg-laying as well as the emergence of scores of hatchlings.
So far only one leatherback turtle -- the most endangered of 's turtles -- has been sighted and that was early Wednesday, said Turtle and Marine Ecosystem Centre director Kamarruddin Ibrahim.
And for the first time in history, neither of the other important species -- Olive Ridley and hawksbill turtles -- have landed at the traditional nesting sites in the northeast state of Terengganu, he told AFP this week.
Kamarruddin said there was also a drop in the number of green turtle landings, with only 1,500 nestings this year compared to 3,086 last year.
"There is definitely a declining pattern of nesting for the leatherbacks, from as many as 800 nests in 1984 and only five last year," he said.
However Kamarruddin said he was hopeful that more egg-laden turtles would arrive before the end of the nesting season in September, as one female is able to nest up to 10 times a year.
"I expect the same mother who came to lay eggs this morning will return. Assuming last night was her first time, we expect more landings later this season," he said.
Kamarruddin was also hopeful that landings will improve next year as the pattern is cyclical and turtles normally return to the same nesting site every alternate year.
Conservationists have warned of a steady decline in turtle landings in Terengganu. In 2002, only three leatherback landings were detected between April and September, far fewer than the 10,000 recorded in the 1960s.
About half a million leatherback hatchings have been released by the centre since 1961 but only a few adults have returned to nest, Kamarruddin said. Only about one out of 1,000 turtles released is believed to survive.
Turtles are also killed by getting entangled in fishing nets in the open seas, hunted for their meat or sacrificed in religious rituals in neighboring countries, he said.
The tourism industry boom has also contributed to the decline. Hotels and bright lights near the beachfront caused turtles to shy away in the early days, with thousands of tourists camping on the beach, building bonfires and even riding on the turtles' backs.
Eggs were also sold or eaten as a traditional source of protein for locals.
Inept hatchery methods were also a factor. Conservationists discovered in 1997 that the high temperatures used at hatcheries around the country had produced only female turtles since 1961.
"To compensate for the proportion of males that we lost, we have started placing eggs in the shade in order to produce males," Kamarruddin said.
"I think everyone is worried. I am very much worried about this trend but I still have hope. There are still turtles in the water that are not mature enough to come back and lay their eggs. They may come back."
The leatherback, green, hawksbill and Olive Ridley turtles are protected under Malaysian laws. The leatherback and hawksbill turtles are listed as "critically endangered" and the other two species are "threatened."