PETALING JAYA: A healthy male green turtle in Pulau Perhentian known as Vicky died on Saturday after being struck by a boat propeller that cracked its shell and injured its lungs.
Believed to be about 25 years old, Vicky was a resident turtle at Turtle Bay, often seen feeding on sea grass around the islands.
On Saturday morning, Perhentian Island Resort guests who were snorkelling at Teluk Pauh in Pulau Perhentian Besar spotted Vicky injured and barely moving at the bottom of the sea.
They immediately returned to shore to inform resort workers, who asked the staff at the Perhentian Turtle Project, a turtle conservation non-governmental organisation, for help.
Project leader Wan Zuriana Wan Sulaiman told The Star that moments before they went snorkelling, the guests had seen a boat speeding in the waters close to where Vicky was found.
"According to the Whatsapp message sent by the guests, the turtle was hardly moving. Earlier, they saw a boat zooming past, stopped in the middle of the water for a moment, and then continued moving," she said.
When Wan Zuriana and her team found Vicky, the turtle had already succumbed to its injuries.
"He had a big boat strike on his carapace. We think the strike was too severe," she said.
The team performed a necropsy on Vicky after recovering him from the water and found blood clots on the carapace.
Wan Zuriana explained that the boat propeller had cracked through the turtle's shell and hit its lungs.
"We discovered that apart from the large crack in the shell from the boat strike, there was a small piece of fishing wire in his stomach," she said, adding that the fishing line could have been ingested together with seagrass.
"If it hadn't been for the boat strike, he could live up to 100 years old," she said.
According to data from the Perhentian Turtle Project, the male-to-female ratio of sea turtles in Pulau Perhentian is not balanced.
"Since the Perhentian Turtle Project started in 2015, we have identified 250 individual turtles, including male, female and juvenile. However, the male population is less than 5% (if the total)," she said, adding that the fewer number of male turtles is also one of the factors contributing to the extinction of the leatherback turtles in Malaysia.
Wan Zuriana said Vicky was the second turtle to die from a boat strike within the span of one year.
"There are many turtles in Perhentian Island along the channel between Perhentian Besar and Perhential Kecil. Around this time last year, we found a turtle that had also died because of a boat strike.
"Many others get hit by speeding boats. We have seen turtles with scars and cracks from the impact of boat propellers, but Vicky was the most severe case so far," she said.
Wan Zuriana says the authorities need to enforce a speed limit within marine parks to ensure that boat activity does not claim another marine life.
"The boats play an important role in turtle conservation, but sometimes boatmen enjoy speeding to impress guests," she said, adding that taxi boats are also often seen rushing to pick up customers.
Although there are buoy lines where boats are not allowed to cross, Wan Zuriana said this protects the guests but not marine life as "turtles don't obey buoy lines."
There have also been several reported cases of high boat activity and speeding boats in marine parks injuring tourists.
In 2013, a British woman reportedly died and an Australian man was injured after being struck by a boat propeller while diving off Pulau Perhentian Kecil.