The WWF-Malaysia turtle teams work at 3 project sites, and they are in Padang Kamunting and the surrounding beaches in Melaka, as well as Kerteh and Setiu in Terengganu. We work closely with the Department of Fisheries on several fronts, which include beach patrolling and hatchery management, egg buy-back, training the rangers and egg collectors, scientific research, as well as community education and awareness.
In collaboration with the Department of Fisheries, we patrol the nesting beaches for nesting females, and collect the eggs for incubation in the hatchery. Although in situ incubation (where eggs are left in their natural nests) is a better option because they produce more healthy and robust hatchlings, leaving the eggs in situ may expose them to higher risks of predation from feral animals such as dogs, wild boars and monitor lizards, not to mention poaching by humans! So these eggs are brought back to the nearest hatchery for incubation.
Several beaches in Terengganu that do not see many turtle and terrapin nestings are tendered out to licensed egg collectors who would either eat them or sell these eggs to the markets for additional income. In the Kerteh area, there are 5 main nesting beaches that are tendered out, and we buy turtle and terrapin eggs from them for incubation at the hatchery.
Training eggs collectors/rangers/hatchery workers
Turtle/terrapin hatching success is very much a team effort. It starts from the person who collects the eggs on the beach, to the person who buries the eggs in the hatchery and to the person who overlooks the cleanliness and safety of the hatchery. So training sessions arere also conducted for the hatchery workers, egg collectors and turtle rangers on the correct egg handling techniques and best hatchery management practices, to ensure a high hatching success rate.
Tracking turtles with satellite transmitters
As you know, turtles know no human-made boundaries. They travel from their feeding areas to their respective nesting beaches, and this can be hundreds if not thousands of kilometers apart, and may pass international waters. Turtle conservation includes not just protecting their nesting beaches, but also their inter-nesting habitat (where they go between laying their first nest and their subsequent nests during a particular season), their migratory pathways as well as their feeding habitats. So we deploy satellite transmitters on these turtles to better understand their migratory routes. Information received from this study will be communicated to other turtle conservation groups in the respective countries these turtles go to so we can all work collaboratively in the pursuit of conserving these ancient species.
Anti-turtle egg campaign
The sale and consumption of turtle eggs are still rampant because there is no law in the country that prohibits them, with the exception of the leatherback eggs in Terengganu. So recently WWF-Malaysia ran an anti-turtle egg campaign aimed at getting the public’s pledges on the following:
- To support laws that will ban the sale and consumption of all turtle eggs throughout Malaysia;
- To support the call for comprehensive and holistic Federal legislation to conserve marine turtles; and
- To pledge never to consume turtle eggs, or trade in turtles or their parts.
Community education and awareness
And last but not least, we work very closely with the local communities at all our project sites. We realize that working on just scientific research or hatchery management will not be effective in arresting the turtle decline because many of the threats are anthropogenic (caused by humans). In Kerteh, we work closely with, and act as technical advisors to the local community conservation group known as Persatuan Khazanah Rakyat Ma’ Daerah (MEKAR) which comprises local villagers, youths, teachers, fishermen, etc. who are concerned about the decline of the turtles. MEKAR spearheads community education and awareness on turtles in the Kemaman and Dungun areas and has carried out activities such as awareness roadshows, a workshop on turtle release and resuscitation techniques for fishermen, facilitated turtle camps at the Ma’ Daerah Turtle Sanctuary, produced a teachers’ guide on how to infuse turtle conservation message into the primary school curriculum, produced a Friday prayer sermon text on turtle and environmental conservation, participated in environmental awareness exhibitions and many more.
Rahayu joined WWF-Malaysia in 2003 as a Programme Officer working closely with the local villagers and fishermen around Kerteh and Paka on turtle conservation. Through sheer grit, sweat and tears, a local community group called Persatuan MEKAR was formed which has since established itself as the first and an exemplary community based organisation that advocates for turtle protection in the country. Her work scope has since expanded to include turtle and terrapin conservation in Setiu, and she now supervises 2 different project sites in Terengganu. Her hobbies include off the beaten track travels, photography, cycling, scuba diving and birdwatching. She shares the field house in Kerteh with her colleague and a fat cat.
This post is part of Turtle Blogathon 2009, where we stayed up for 24-straight-hours to blog about turtles. Posts written during the Turtle Blogathon are filed in the Turtle Blogathon 2009 category.