THE Hawksbill, a medium-sized marine turtle (usually less than a metre long and weighing 40kg to 60kg) with elaborate coloured patterns on its shell and narrow pointed mouth reminiscent of a bird of prey, is facing extinction, according to World Conservation Union (IUCN).
Categorised as a critically endangered animal under the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species, the Hawksbill is endangered by losing feeding habitat, excessive egg-collection, fishery-related mortality, pollution and coastal development by humans.
In Malaysia, the Hawksbill is found in Malacca (250 nests a year), Turtle Islands in Sabah (500 nests), Terengganu (less than 20 nests) and islands in Johor (50 to 100 nests).
Malacca, with the largest nesting population in Peninsular Malaysia, is heading for the same fate as other places in the world with a decline in the number of nests on its beaches during the nesting season.
Fisheries Department resources management division head Dr Sukarno Wagiman said that Malacca had an average of 200 nests, and between 25,000 and 30,000 eggs are collected a year.
Hawksbill turtles lay eggs on beaches in Pulau Upeh, Terendak military camp, Kuala Linggi and Padang Kemunting in Malacca.
This is only 40% to 50% of total nesting. It is not good, he told reporters after the opening of a recent workshop organised by WWF-Malaysia in Ayer Keroh on an action plan for management and conservation of Hawksbill turtles in Malacca.
Rapid coastal and riverine infrastructure development had contributed to losses in hatcheries, he said.
Turtle egg collectors have to travel long distances to transfer the eggs to incubators and this has affected the hatching process.
To bring the collected turtle eggs from Pulau Upeh to the sanctuary in Padang Kemunting takes several hours, but the replanting time should be shorter than that, he said.
Dr Sukarno said a more effective management plan had to be implemented to maintain or increase the current nesting population.
He said there was relatively little research done on the Hawksbill compared to research on the Leatherback and Green turtles.
We know very little about the Hawksbill. Deeper understanding about them is needed to work out a detailed plan, he said.
A meeting of his department with relevant NGOs, state government officials and fishermen would help draw up an integrated plan, said Dr Sukarno.
The department was expected to hand in a proposal to the Malacca government by the end of this year to gazette the Terendak military camp beach, Kuala Linggi rookery and Pulau Upeh hatcheries as protected sites.
At present, the Pulau Upeh hatcheries handle 30% of the Hawksbill eggs in Malacca.
We hope that TNB Properties which owns Pulau Upeh will adopt the hatcheries, he said.
He said the department also hoped the state would support its sanctuary programmes by providing financial aid.
The Malacca Turtle Sanctuary, located in Padang Kemunting, is the only centre set up to provide maximum protection for the Hawksbill.
It was set up as a hatchery in 1986 and upgraded to sanctuary status in 1990.
It is popular among tourists and students and its peak season is between March and August when the turtles land to nest.
Apart from being a tourist attraction and education centre, it operates as a conservation and research site.
Based on information at the centre's gallery, two species of marine turtles nest in Malacca the Hawwksbill and Green turtles.
There are seven species of marine turtles in the world and four of them, including the Leatherback and Olive Ridley, lay eggs on Malaysian beaches.
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