BANGKOK: The endangered leatherback turtle population is effectively extinct in Malaysia and this has deprived the country of one of its most charismatic tourist lures, says a United Nations Environment Programme report.
It said Malaysia offered one of the most dramatic, best-documented examples of decline in a nesting population of marine turtles.
Leatherback turtles nesting along the Terengganu coastline used to number in the thousands in the 1960s, but in recent years only a handful of infertile nests have been laid, it said in a 166-page report prepared for the memorandum of understanding on the Conservation and Management of Marine Turtles of the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia.
The report raised concern that these prehistoric creatures of the sea that can grow up to 700kg or more are on the decline.
The report said the main threats to leatherback turtles included mortality in fisheries, egg harvesting by humans, and depredation of eggs by pigs and dogs and loss of critical habitat, especially beaches needed for nesting.
An accompanying report on the impact of the December 2004 tsunami on marine turtles and their habitats, said the tsunami had caused localised damage to turtle habitats in 11 countries.
India, Thailand and Sri Lanka were the worst affected, with some nesting beaches completely destroyed.
Marine turtle conservation projects in these countries also suffered significant damage from the tsunami, including the loss of lives of conservation staff.
The United Nations Environment Programme said the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India were thought to harbour as many as 400 to 600 nesting turtles but the tsunami that struck the islands during the peak nesting season had seriously disrupted turtle nesting that year. Bernama