How did turtles survive the dinosaurs era?

Written by Dr. Chan Eng Heng

Dr. Chan is a co-founder of TCS. She is a retired Professor who had spent more than 30 years studying marine turtles in the country.

26 Oct 2009

How did turtles survive the dinosaurs era, but are threatened with extinction now?

It goes to show that they were very resilient and able to withstand the catastrophic changes on earth in the past. Indeed, before the advent of man, marine turtles numbered in the millions. Unfortunately, they cannot withstand the threats brought about by mankind – over-exploitation, habitat destruction, incidental captures in fishing gear, pollution..the list goes on. The most serious threat to marine turtles in South East Asia today is the relentless poaching of these animals in the region. Watch the “Call to better protect turtles of Malaysia” video in the Video Clips page. Terrestrial and freshwater turtles fair no better. They are hunted and traded illegally to such an extent that they have all become threatened with extinction.

What were the effects of the tsunami on the population of marine turtles?

The effect was immediate and mostly on the physical facilities of turtle projects. Some were completely washed away and those that kept turtles in captivity lost all their turtles. Some of the turtles were stranded far inland, with some of them later found dead. On nesting beaches where eggs were undergoing incubation, all the eggs were washed away. A volunteer in one of the turtle projects in Thailand managed by a friend of mine died in the tsunami. Fortunately, the population numbers in the ocean were not badly impacted.

All or only certain species are under threat?

All are under threat, but the degree of endangerment differs among the species. Among the marine species, the IUCN Red data list accords the status of  “critically endangered” for hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley turtles while green, leatherback and olive ridley turtles are listed as “endangered”. In Malaysia, the leatherback and olive ridleys are practically extinct.

Most of the freshwater species in Malaysia have been ranked as among the 25 top-most endangered freshwater turtles of the world. These include the river terrapin, painted terrapin and the South-East Asian striped softshell turtle (picture above).

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  1. Hi Prof Chan!

    Thanks for the great info! Btw, I’m wondering why arent there any truly enforced law in Malaysia to protect the turtles? Aren’t they concerned about the extincton of the turtles? It’s so sad that there’s only a small group of people are working hard on the conservation of turtles but a bigger group of people are porching and killing the turtles!

    • You are welcome, Evinn. Your question on law enforcement will be answered by Pelf in a later post.

    • Here it is, Evinn — Are turtles protected by the Malaysian laws?


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