by Gowri Sritharan
Throughout the month of May last year, 4000 Hawksbill turtle eggs were stolen from over 30 nests along the Kuala Sungai Baru and Linggi coastlines in Malacca.
The Fisheries Act 1985 clearly defines that offenders found guilty of “illegally” collecting turtle eggs without a permit from the State Fisheries Department are liable to fines of up to RM1000 per egg.
Although laws exist to prosecute offenders of illegal collection, possession, sale, poaching and smuggling of turtles and their eggs, questions arise on whether these laws are being implemented and thoroughly enforced. The profitable trade of turtle eggs is still rampantly occurring and very few cases are recorded where offenders are prosecuted and fined.
The increasing demand for turtle eggs on the Malaysian market and the subsequent price rise from RM1 to RM2.50 per egg has not only driven insensitive individuals to nesting shores, but also fueled the smuggling in of turtle eggs from neighbouring countries where such sales are prohibited by the law. Traders find lucrative, convenient and unrisky markets in Peninsula Malaysia.
In Malaysia, turtle conservation efforts are a far cry from the currently existing enforcement. Rantau Abang in Terengganu was home to 10,000 turtle landings 50 years ago, but fewer than 20 remain today (source: The National Recovery Strategy for the Leatherback Turtle in Pacific Canadian Waters). The mistreatment of turtles by locals and tourists as well as the development for tourism has left adverse effects on turtle populations.
The same consequence is to be experienced in Kuala Sungai Baru should the state government decide to go ahead with the planned marine tin mining activities. With Malacca having the highest number of Hawksbill turtle landings in Peninsula Malaysia, mining could leave devastating effects on turtle habitats and breeding shores.
Sabah and Sarawak’s efforts in a bid to halt turtle exploitation have proven fruitful, with an increased number of turtles and landing sites observed over the past few years. Acts and laws to prohibit the sale of turtle eggs as well as proper enforcement have helped the conservation of endangered turtles in East Malaysia. In islands like Pulau Selingan, Bakungan Kechil and Gulisan, a high number of turtle landings are recorded each year.
The Sarawak Forestry Corporation has also played a major role by initiating the turtle adoption program for the purpose of creating awareness about turtle habitats, activities and conservation. Such programs have exposed the general public to wildlife behaviour, thus forming respect for such creatures.
Immediate efforts are necessary in Malacca and Terengganu, and Peninsula Malaysia as a whole, to conserve the endangered turtles. Prosecution and harsher penalties should be imposed upon all offenders caught stealing, selling, buying or in any way possessing turtle eggs, meat and products.
The Malaysian Fisheries Department, the Ministry of Tourism and animal conservation organizations should work hand in hand, to provide education and initiate programs to create awareness among the general public, especially the younger generation. Protests against the sale and consumption of turtle eggs by every individual is the main step in addressing this issue, as the exploitation will eventually stop when the buying does.
Turtle landings and nesting shores are not just part of the Malaysian environment, but a unique testament of the nation’s beauty. As Malaysians, we should be proud that the turtles chose to walk our shores, and do all in our effort to welcome and care for them.