One of the major threats to sea turtles survival, in Malaysia especially, is the over-harvesting of eggs. It is still legal in many parts of Malaysia to collect and sell turtle eggs for human consumption. Despite turtle population crashes and local extinction of the Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), this trade is still allowed to continue. There are still relatively healthy populations of Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) left in Malaysia, but continued exploitation is guaranteed to have lasting effects on these turtle populations.
Due to the longevity of the turtle’s life history strategy, the effects of this exploitation might not be seen for years to come. It takes on average 20 years for these turtle species to reach sexual maturity, if we are reducing the amount of hatchlings entering these populations, then we could see a huge population crash due to a lack of re-stocking the population.
Fortunately there could be salvation for the turtles. Organisations such as Lang Tengah Turtle Watch (LTTW) are doing all they can to counter these effects. By taking eggs from vulnerable beaches and putting them in hatcheries, they can offer protection to the eggs from poachers. Protecting the eggs until they are ready to hatch, and allowing these hatchlings to enter the water safely is a great way of increasing the populations of sea turtles.
I am currently working with LTTW at their mainland project. In 2016 LTTW expanded their conservation operation in collaboration with YTL at Tanjong Jara Resort (TJ), Dungun. Run by the brilliant Miles and Rifqah the project works with local rangers and other stakeholders to re-locate eggs into the hatcheries. As well as LTTW’s normal operations, the TJ project runs activities specifically aimed at the resort guests, such as hatchling releases and nest adoptions. By involving the guests we can educate the public about sea turtle conservation as well as raising money to help fund the project’s conservation efforts.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the TJ project is the nest adoption program. This allows guests to adopt a turtle’s nest, putting their name on the nest and receiving updates on the nest right the way up to hatchling release. The money given by the guests allows the team to approach local tender holders and purchase freshly laid nests before they reach the market, where these endangered turtles would be sold for consumption.
Once the nests are purchased from the tender holders, they are relocated into our hatchery. It takes on average 51 days for the nests to be ready to hatch. The team will check the nest after 37 days to ensure that the eggs are healthy. If there are any eggs that have succumb to infection then we will take out the infected eggs to reduce the risk of the infection spreading. When the turtles are ready to hatch we invite guests to come and witness this truly awsome feat of nature, engaging the guests in this event allows us to convey the importance of conserving these animals.
As well as nest checks and hatchling releases the guests can attend our regular turtle talks and documentary nights were we teach them about turtle ecology and conservation concerns. By teaching them about the fight to save the sea turtles, we hope to encourage them to leave donations to allow the project to continue to run.
When the team is not busy taking care of turtle eggs, they are involved in community engagement. Several times a year LTTW invite groups of local school kids along with university students to help in massive beach clean ups. Taking hundreds of kg of plastic and other rubbish of the beach and out of our oceans. Throughout these beach clean-up days the kids are given presentations on marine pollution and turtle conservation. Hopefully by teaching the younger generation how to better take care of their natural environments, we can change the tide when it comes to turtle conservation.
This mainland project is of vital importance to the maintenance of turtle populations. Without LTTW being based here then all the turtle nests along this stretch of coast will end up in the market. Last year the project had 84 nests, successfully releasing 5447 hatchlings. This year the aim is to have 200 nests, putting even more turtles into the water. The work the team is doing here is admirable, the results of the work will not be seen until these hathclings reach sexual maturity and are able to return to nest themselves, although the results are hard to see the team continues to work hard throughout the season, giving as many turtles as possible a chance of survival.
This project is amazing, run by a young team of passionate conservationists along with groups of research assistants and interns. However, anyone can get involved. In fact volunteers are an essential part of the operation. If you are looking for a chance to taste the island life and to help do some vital conservation work then anyone can volunteer to help the programme. Visit the website for more details http://www.langtengahturtlewatch.org/
The project and others like it are vital for the continued survival of sea turtles. Under huge pressure from the ever growing human populations, it is our duty to help the species. Every egg that can be saved, raised into a baby turtle and put back into the ocean counts. This work is making a difference, and should be celebrated. But we must not forget that humans are the ones causing these species to suffer, we must all educate ourselves and others on what we are doing to our planet, and what we can do to help it.
Photo credit: Lang Tengah Turtle Watch