Fears over turtle haven being left high and dry


Several environmental groups are unhappy with the purported poor management at the Teluk Ketapang Turtle Conservation Centre on Pulau Pangkor, in Perak.

The centre was initially set up on the beach by environmental activist Rasli Ibrahim, but in 2021 its management was taken over by the Perak Fisheries Department.Rasli says there is rubbish everywhere and there have been incidents of turtle egg theft.Rasli says there is rubbish everywhere and there have been incidents of turtle egg theft.

It is the second conservation centre in Perak after the Segari Turtle Sanctuary on the Pasir Panjang beach, near Manjung.

Rasli claimed that presently, only one general worker from the department was looking after the centre.

“The beach is not cleaned, there is rubbish everywhere and there have been incidents of turtle egg theft.

“This will cause the number of turtle landings at the site to dwindle,” he said.

Echoing his sentiments was Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) field officer Meor Razak Abdul Rahman.

“The place is not maintained properly, the beach is dirty and only a worker is stationed at the centre, while the conservation officer or expert is based in the department’s headquarters in Ipoh,” Meor Razak claimed.

He said turtles would not usually land at sites that were not pristine.

“SAM hopes both the conservation centres in Segari and Teluk Ketapang can be gazetted as protected areas under Section 62 of the National Land Code.

“Both areas must also be declared as national heritage,” he added.

The Teluk Ketapang Turtle Conservation Centre on Pulau Pangkor was built and managed by the Perak Fisheries Department to replace the earlier non-permanent structures (inset) set up by Rasli. The temporary structures were demolished in 2021. — Photos courtesy of RASLI IBRAHIMThe Teluk Ketapang Turtle Conservation Centre on Pulau Pangkor was built and managed by the Perak Fisheries Department to replace the earlier non-permanent structures (inset) set up by Rasli. The temporary structures were demolished in 2021. — Photos courtesy of RASLI IBRAHIM

Meor Razak said it was pointless having state-of-the-art buildings or structures when the turtle landing sites were not protected.

Persatuan Aktivis Sahabat Alam (Kuasa) research and information management executive councillor Zuwairi Nawawi said the lack of earnestness in managing the centre was very concerning.

He said the turtle landing season had begun, but the unconducive state of the beach showed that the department was not serious in its efforts to increase the number of turtle landings.

“Teluk Ketapang under the management and care of the local community prior to this was more conducive and safer for turtles to land.Meor Razak says turtles will not usually land at sites that are not pristine.Meor Razak says turtles will not usually land at sites that are not pristine.

“The reason by the department from year to year is always the same – lack of manpower – but suggestions to allow the community to carry out night patrols, gather data and hand over turtle eggs to the department had been rejected.

“I hope the local authorities will listen to the voices and concerns of the people and collaborate with others to protect the conservation areas and safeguard the species,” he said.

How it started

Rasli, who also set up Persatuan Pencinta dan Pemuliharaan Penyu Pulau Pangkor (Pencinta), said that in 2017, he organised camping tours on a secluded beach at Teluk Ketapang and there, he noticed green sea turtles (penyu agar) arriving on shore.

He said after getting approval from the district office then, he established a turtle conservation centre by putting up non-permanent structures through donations collected from the community.

He collected turtle eggs for conservation, gathered data and conducted educational tours at the centre.

“After seeing my work, several academicians from universities collaborated with me to carry out studies.

“I also arranged eco-tourism tours and cleaned the beach area regularly with a team and the local community.

Turtles at the Teluk Ketapang conservation centre when it was run by the NGO.Turtles at the Teluk Ketapang conservation centre when it was run by the NGO.

“I informed the Fisheries Department regularly on the number of turtle landing sites, before the centre was taken over by the department,” said Rasli.

“In April 2021, there were 37 landing sites,” he added.

Meor Razak said the initiative by Pencinta was exemplary.

“Rasli’s team held various programmes with schools on releasing the turtles back into the sea, and even provided information to visitors.

“He went to great lengths for conservation, but unfortunately, after the ruling from the department, he had to back off as the area was fenced up,” Meor Razak added.

A file photo showing visitors at Teluk Ketapang conservation centre when it was run by the NGO.A file photo showing visitors at Teluk Ketapang conservation centre when it was run by the NGO.

Rasli said once the department announced the Fishing Rules (Turtles) Perak 2021, the structures he built were demolished to make way for permanent concrete structures built by the department.

Under the rules, he said, the public was not allowed to manage the centre and so he had to leave.

“We (Pencinta) were doing a great job looking after the turtles and preventing the theft of turtle eggs, but now I feel very sad to see the condition of the centre,” he said.Norhaslinda says it is the responsibility of the department to safeguard the turtles.Norhaslinda says it is the responsibility of the department to safeguard the turtles.

Rasli added that he had sent in an application to the department for a permit to be involved in the conservation, but did not receive a reply.

In 2021, it was reported that 400m area of the site had been designated for the centre.

About RM3mil in allocations were also said to have been set aside to develop the place between 2021 and 2025.

Community involvement

Pulau Pangkor assemblyman Norhaslinda Zakaria pointed out that turtles had been landing at Teluk Ketapang, one of the island’s sandy beaches, for a long time but these were not recorded prior to 2017.

“The management of turtles falls under the jurisdiction of the state government through the Fisheries Department, which stipulates that any activities involving turtles and their display are in violation of the Fisheries Act 1985.

“This means that no one can possess turtles without permission, especially in areas under the jurisdiction of the relevant department.

“As I understand it, a few years ago, some individuals engaged in these activities and they were found to be incubating turtle eggs themselves and not handing them over to the department, and when they grew larger, they were exhibited to tourists with a fee imposed.

“We need to adhere to what is stipulated by the state authorities,” she said.

The unkempt Teluk Ketapang beach in Pulau Pangkor.The unkempt Teluk Ketapang beach in Pulau Pangkor.

Norhaslinda said the state government, moreover, announced last July that the conservation centre would be gazetted as a rehabilitation and marine life conservation site.

This, she said, was done to ensure that there was no development in that area.

“I am concerned about anything that holds value for the interests of the island, including turtle protection.

“Besides being famous for its beautiful and clean beaches, another precious treasure on the island is the habitat where turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.

“Without the presence of turtles, Pangkor island would lose one of its tourist attractions, because such habitats are rarely found and these species have their own importance in ensuring the balance of marine ecosystems along coastlines, islands and the ocean,” she added.A filepic of a member of Rasli’s team collecting turtle eggs at Teluk Ketapang beach for conservation.A filepic of a member of Rasli’s team collecting turtle eggs at Teluk Ketapang beach for conservation.

Norhaslinda said she attended a Pangkor Island Conservation Day event at Teluk Giam organised by Pencinta in February last year.

She said Pencinta actively carried out conservation efforts such as programmes, educational activities and collaborations with various parties.

“The three-day programme received good response with over 1,000 attendees, including various NGOs from outside Perak,” she noted.

However, she said turtle conservation was still the responsibility of the Fisheries Department.

She supports and encourages conservation programmes, and raising public awareness of the importance of turtles.

She said collecting turtle eggs without the approval of the state authorities was an offence.

Norhaslinda said the department must be responsible for managing and conserving the species, and this role must be further strengthened through cooperation with various enforcement agencies.

“Effective enforcement action must be carried out and it is important that the community be given a role to play as well,” she added.

All in order

When contacted, Perak rural development, plantation, agriculture and food industry committee chairman Datuk Mohd Zolkafly Harun said the conservation centres at Teluk Ketapang and Segari were being managed as usual.

He said four turtle landing sites were recorded at Teluk Ketapang beach last year, while 26 landing sites were recorded at Pasir Panjang beach in Segari.Mohd Zolkafly says the department has incubated 2,171 turtle eggs.Mohd Zolkafly says the department has incubated 2,171 turtle eggs.

He added that the department had incubated 2,171 turtle eggs, resulting in 832 hatchlings.

“Allegations that these two centres are not well managed are completely unfounded, as two G19 grade staff (Fisheries assistants) have been put on duty to receive the turtle eggs, purchase the eggs, off-site relocation of nest, cleaning of the nesting area on the beach, digging and cleaning of the nesting sand in Teluk Ketapang,” said Mohd Zolkafly.

“There is also the daily work of cleaning and taking care of the exhibits at the information centre,” he said.

For Segari, he said additional work was required because this centre had live turtles that were used as exhibits and ensure their good health.

He said the centre in Segari operated five to six days a week with four staff who were trained to provide information about turtle species in Perak to the public.

“Last year, the centre in Segari recorded 23,516 tourists, and in Teluk Ketapang, 512 tourists visited the centre to get first-hand experience about the turtles,” he added.

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