Date: 8th July 2013
By: Sean Augustin
BAGS containing turtle eggs, resembling oversized ping-pong balls, were displayed openly by hawkers at the Pasar Payang market, in Kuala Terengganu.
The ones caked with sand were local eggs, while the cleaner ones were apparently from Sabah, or so they say.
Buyers would have to take the makcik’s word for it and shell out more money for the eggs from Terengganu, which cost RM35 for a pack of 10. Eggs from Sabah are priced below RM30 for the same amount.
The scene and the open sale of the turtle eggs is worrying conservationists, with Universiti Malaysia Terengganu Institute of Oceanography and Environment lecturer Dr Jarina Mohd Jani observing a rise of turtle eggs being sold blatantly, unlike before.
Fruit sellers, she laments, were also joining the bandwagon.
Most of the eggs sold are that of Green turtles, although others have noted that those belonging to Hawksbill turtles were also traded.
Even more disheartening was the response given by an assembly member at the Terengganu Turtle Council meeting recently.
When conservationist pushed for a blanket ban of the sale of turtle eggs in the state, the politician said such action would lead to his party losing the election.
“I was disturbed and devastated, because the turtle is an iconic species for Terengganu. An increase in sales of eggs means you are not protecting your icon. If you can’t protect turtles, then forget about everything else,” Jarina told fz.com.
She will soon embark on a study on banning the sale of turtle eggs and its possible effects on voting.
Rise in smuggling
Turtle Conservation Society co-founder Prof Chan Eng Heng meanwhile said she is seeing a rise in the number of smuggled eggs into the state.
The eggs, she said, originated from the Philippines and are smuggled into Sandakan, Sabah before making its way to Terengganu.
The increase, Chan said, was worrisome, as it affects the survival rate of hatchlings.
Some scientists estimate that one of the 1,000 hatchlings make it to adulthood, while others are more pessimistic, putting the ratio of one to every 10,000 due increased hazards in the ocean.
Either way, Chan feels it could eventually lead to extinction of the species, if nothing is done.
Chan also points out that the refusal to ban the sale of turtle eggs derails conservation efforts in other states, like Sabah, where such trade is outlawed.
“Poachers in Sabah know they have a ready market in Terengganu. So rather than risk getting caught red handed selling the eggs there, they will post it here,” she said.
Educated tourists, Chan fears, may shun Terengganu or worse, start a petition encouraging others to boycott the state.
The bad image aside, Chan said it was important for Terengganu to enforce a ban on the sale of turtle eggs. After all, it had done so before in the late 1980s with the sale of Leatherback turtle eggs.
“They did so when the species was close to extinction. We shouldn’t wait for the other species to go down the same road before doing something,” she said.
Consumption ‘biggest threat’ to species
World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF Malaysia)’s Rahayu Zulkifli said a ban must be imposed on the sale of turtle eggs, labelling the consumption of the eggs “the biggest threat” to the species.
Rahayu, who is the NGO’s team leader for the state turtle conservation programme said the sanction of the sale also gives the impression that it is “okay” to eat the eggs when the population is dwindling.
Health, she reasoned, should be another incentive to stop selling the eggs.
“A study done by an Australian university and the Fisheries Department four years ago revealed the eggs sold at the market contained high levels of heavy metal toxins,” she said.
To be fair, the state attempted to resolve the issue. Former Industry, Trade and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Toh Chin Yaw tried to persuade the hawkers to stop selling the eggs voluntarily.
At first, he said they were receptive to the idea until the Pasar Payang Traders Association convinced the hawkers otherwise.
“Their argument was that selling the eggs was to lure customers who would end up buying other goods. If they stopped selling the eggs, they would not be able to attract potential buyers,” he said when contacted.