Turtles find Sabah an ideal habitat

Longstaying visitors: Divers taking photos of a turtle.

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s Pom-Pom Island appears to be a suitable habitat for endangered turtle species such as the green and hawksbill turtles.

Marine biologist Jeethvendra Kirishnamorthie said that based on his research on the island over the years, he found that many of the turtles they tagged or identified over 10 years ago were still there.

“Turtles are normally migratory beings, but they would like to reduce movement and stay longer in one place if they find a suitable habitat,” he said.

The Science Officer at the Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC) said they conduct research on the population and habitat information of these turtles via face identification and other matters on Pom-Pom Island.

“Based on one of our studies, we found that some turtles that we first encountered in 2012 are still there today,” Jeethvendra said.

He said it is vital that researchers use the information gathered from these investigations to seek solutions for threats to marine biodiversity and identify areas suitable for protecting and conserving protected marine species.

Jeethvendra said for the face identification method, he and his team, along with contributions from volunteers, have recorded 600 green turtle individuals and 30 Hawksbill turtles.

On the TRACC Facebook page, they recently uploaded their turtle face ID process, saying they were lucky to have a massive population of turtles around Pom Pom Island.

During this dive, their volunteers went in teams to try and capture the facial scoots of the turtles they came across.

One of the most important things when doing this is the approach, and since volunteers were dealing with species that are not used to humans, they did not wish to interfere with collecting them for their database.

While other methods to determine turtle populations include the catch-and-release method, those on Pom-Pom Island prefer to keep it simple with nothing but photos.

“We have established over 600 individuals using this highly effective method. Adapting to the turtle is crucial, hence the caption, which reads, ‘Approach steadily, slowly, and cautiously.”

Jeethvendra said both the green and hawksbill turtles are endangered and protected species.

“Hawksbills are critically endangered globally because their habitats are affected by sand loss, among other reasons,” he said.

He said people don’t usually poach the Hawksbill for its meat because many people think the flesh is toxic.

“There have been reports that we know of where people who ate Hawksbill turtle meat ended up getting food poisoning and had to be hospitalised. Some have even died,” said Jeethvendra.

According to him, the declining turtle population in Sabah can be attributed to blast fishing, boat strikes and propeller accidents.

“Whatever the cases are, it is important that we find alternatives to development and try sustainable practices in every way we can for a balance between development and environmental protection as well as conservation of animal species,” he said.

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