Sunday, April 14, 2013

Saving sea turtles from extinction in Sabah


SEMPORNA: The younger generation need to be educated on the importance of maintaining the sea turtle population in the waters around Sipadan and Mabul islands off the Sabah coast.

Dr Pushpa Palaniappan, a senior lecturer of Borneo Marine Research Institute, University Malaysia Sabah, who expressed this opinion, said while the communities along the coastal regions were beginning to understand the need to preserve the sea turtle numbers, it took time to change the general misperception people had on conservation.

In fact, the sea turtles were on the verge of extinction because of apathy towards saving them from dying out, she added.

The main factor is the selling and eating of turtle eggs. For instance, some poor families sell turtle eggs to earn a better income.

Apart from this, callous fishing methods trap the turtles in nets, causing them to drown.

The turtles would also become sickly and thinner through “food poisoning” if they ate too much plastic thrown into the sea by the irresponsible people.

The turtles usually mistook plastic bags or sheets floating on the surface for jelly fish which form part of their natural diet.

Generally, sea turtles are on their eve of destruction due to habitat and nesting site loss, pollution, predation, overhunting and a lack of understanding of their important role in maintaining the equilibrium of the ecosystem.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Malaysia) plays a vital role in providing awareness education programmes on preserving sea turtle population for the younger generation.

In this regard, Dr Pushpa thanked the government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and society in general for their co-operation and help.

She was in Semporna recently to attend a prelude event of World Turtle Day 2013 held at Uncle Chang’s Resort on Mabul island.

Programmes for catching, measuring and tagging turtles were organised for the guests.

World Turtle Day 2013 will be held on May 23 to bring attention to, increase knowledge of and respect for turtles and tortoises as well as encourage human actions to help these marine reptiles survive and thrive.

The Borneo Marine Research Institute (BMRI), Universiti Malaysia Sabah – in collaboration with Uncle Chang’s Resort, 1Borneo Ballroom Sdn Bhd and The Borneo Connections Sdn Bhd – plans to commemorate World Turtle Day 2013 by conducting an underwater census of the resident sea turtle population in the waters of Mabul.

The turtles will be caught, photographed, measured, tagged and returned to the sea.

The objective is to create public awareness and enhance education, research and conservation of the sea turtle population in the area.

The organisers will open the event to Resort guests to give them hands-on experience on sea turtle research. Primary schools in Mabul will also be invited to observe World Turtle Day activities there.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun will officiate at the event.

World Turtle Day in Mabul will be an annual event to be included in Sabah tourism calendar to encourage participation from domestic and international tourists.

This long-term project will enable BMRI to collect annual growth rate data on the sea turtle population in Mabul for conservation purposes.

Sea turtles are highly migratory sea-going reptiles, believed to have existed since the Triassic period, about 200 million years ago.

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