KOTA KINABALU: Researchers here have promised to use safer and better methods when tagging turtles in waters off Semporna to better protect these endangered sea creatures.
Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said a roundtable discussion was organised, following concerns from seasoned divers and researchers on the "lift bag method" used during the annual Mabul Sea Turtle Project.
Some claim that this method, used by certain scientists from a public university, are harmful to these marine creatures.
The "lift bag method" is used when capturing turtles to tag, where they are tied to an air-filled bag and floated to the surface.
The speed they ascend to the surface is believed to be harmful, as it could lead to decompression sickness – and even possible fatalities – in turtles.
Tuuga said there had been speculation that this was leading to the death of turtles here, but there is no evidence to these claims.
"However, the scientists involved will make appropriate changes to the method for the additional safety of turtles," he said.
He said the public university would continue with their successful collaboration with the resort in Mabul towards the public awareness, education and conservation of the sea turtles there.
Tuuga said the discussion organised by the Sabah Wildlife Department with the scientists, resort management and related non-governmental organisations was also to find a way forward for the sea turtle research project in Mabul Island.
"The Mabul sea turtle project since 2013 has recorded over one thousand turtles captured as of 2019, many of which were repeat captures from which valuable growth, health and genetic data has been obtained," he said.
"Each turtle that is caught is tagged to give it a unique identification number for long-term monitoring," he said.
Tuuga said from their findings, major anthropological threats to sea turtles in Sabah – which are especially prevalent in Mabul – were poaching, plastic pollution and boat strikes.
"We are working closely with the marine police and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) to apprehend and charge poachers, as well as deter others from committing these crimes," he said.
He said clean-up programmes and awareness on the dangers of discarding plastic wantonly have been conducted for school students, as well as the public.
Tuuga said sea turtles need to surface to breathe and could collide with fast-moving boats.
"It is highly recommended that boats lower their speed to 4kmh in shallow areas where turtles forage," he said.
Sea turtles are totally protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 in Sabah.