|June 02, 2005 10:29 AM
The Reef Balls Way To Turtle Conservation In
KUCHING, June 2 (Bernama) -- Marine Park Warden
Christopher Kri's heart leapt these days on seeing more turtles able
to make it to the beach and lay eggs at the Sarawak's turtle islands
of Talang-Talang and Satang.
The phenomenon is proof of the
success of the artificial reef ball project which was started in
But since then, around RM1 million has been spent on
turtle conservation at the island which has been gazetted as the
Talang-Satang Marine National Park.
The national park,
comprises the three main turtle islands of Pulau Satang Besar, Pulau
Talang Talang Besar and Pulau Talang Talang Kecil, is accessible by
a 30-minute speedboat ride from either the coastal bazaar of Sematan
or Telaga Air in Santubong.
The project saw the deployment of
1,000 reef balls within 4.8 km radius of the turtle islands,
situated on the South China Sea, off the state's north-western
Initiated by the Sarawak Reef Ball Working Group
(SRBWG), led by the Sarawak Forestry Department, the
environment-friendly concrete balls are dropped on the
The idea is to protect the nesting and swimming areas
of sea turtles from illegal fish trawling activities.
the assistance of seven enforcement personnel, including two
rangers, Kri has seen the number of dead turtles found on the
beaches, decreasing from 70-100 to 10-30 annually since
implementation of the project.
About 90 percent of the
landings on the islands' shore during the nesting months of April to
September, are the green turtle (penyu agar) with some very rare
hawksbill turtle (penyu sisik), olive ridley turtle (penyu lipas)
and leatherback turtle (penyu belimbing).
EXTRA CATCH FOR
SMALL TIME FISHERMEN
The reef ball project has also
spawned other marine life like shrimps giving extra catch for the
small time fishermen.
"Local fishermen from Sematan and
Telaga Air are (also) very happy because their catches have
increased as shrimp trawlers are avoiding the sea area after their
nets get caught at the reef ball and torn," he said during a recent
media trip here.
One trawl net costs them around
Prior to this, encroachment within the two
nautical miles of the area has been very rampant despite it being
marked as Fisheries Prohibited Areas.
He said the Sarawak
Forestry Corporation (SFC), which took over the project has not
receive any public reports of dead turtles around their
Dead turtles, mainly due to the strangulation by
trawl nets, was once a common sight at the beaches.
turtles also face the threat from poachers going after the eggs by
savagely ripping off the stomach.
Kris recalled a saddening
experience that sent the enforcement officials almost into tears
when they found the carcass of a huge turtle on the
"That particular mother turtle was tagged No. 9738.
She was very healthy and very big, laying about 120 eggs,
"After she did not come back to lay eggs, we are
puzzled until we receive a report from a coastal villagers on the
mainland that they found a dead turtle," he said.
"I sent an
investigating team (because we cannot afford to patrol the beach
round-the-clock) and when we came to check, we saw people were
extracting eggs from the turtle's tummy," he said.
being a totally protected species in Sarawak, turtle eggs and meat
are a much sought after items by especially among Asians who
considered it not just a delicacy but an aphrodisiac as
With the passion for the need to conserve the sensitive
ecosystem, Kri and his team are kept busy, particularly during the
Their array of "things-to-do" are those
so-called "turtle things" like preparing tags, data sheets to record
time of landings and preparing turtle holes.
"You can observe
they (turtles) have so many beautiful features and are so different
from other marine life...they really know what they are doing, they
slowly dug their nest and then hide it away in the sand..they are
really gentle creature," he said.
Their abiding nature, especially the
hatchlings, make them vulnerable to predators like eagles, sharks,
fishes as well as monitor lizards.
To reduce their exposure
to these natural nemesis, hatchlings are released to the sea at
night as they leave their magnetic imprints in the sands.
release them at a certain area of the beach at a certain time of the
day and hopefully to confuse the predators," he
Releasing of the hatchling should be done soon after
they are hatched and not wait until they grow to a certain size to
increase their resistance to predators.
"According to our
research, probably, it will not be able to survive because it, sort
of, interrupts the natural behaviour of these animals to breed and
reduce more hatchlings," he added.
involve two considerations -- that for the in-situ eggs and those
exposed to the tides.
Turtle eggs under the latter are moved
to the hatchery at Pulau Talang-Talang Besar.
biologist, James Bali said normally survival rate is very high, at
75-80 percent, with the highest record of an individual female
coming back to the islands to lay eggs up to 11 times.
who is in charge of marine wildlife conservation in Sarawak said
that takes 20 to 30 years for a turtle to
ENHANCING SURVIVAL RATE
enhance the turtle survival rate, he said many more reef balls are
needed to protect the migration routes from the islands' totally
protected areas to their feeding grounds in waters off Brunei,
Sabah, Philippines and Indonesia.
He said there was also a
need to protect the turtles' feeding ground, with a recent
scientific expedition identifying seven species of sea grasses at
A proposal would be submitted to the State
Management and Resource Planning Ministry for the gazetting of the
Lawas Sea Grass National Park, he said.
And like the "Turtle
State' of Terengganu, he said the Sarawak Museum, an initial
authority on the creature in Sarawak has been recording the annual
turtles landing at the Turtle Islands since 1949 when conservation
Record shows that the last ten years had seen a
stable population of between 1,500-3,000 nests per year from a drop
by 90 percent between 1950 and 1995.
Back in 1951, the first
hatchery was set up, followed by the formation of the Turtles' Board
and designation of the islands as a turtles' sanctuary six years
Taking advantage of the picturesque Turtles' Islands
as a lure to nature lovers, Bali said the SFC encourages marine
education and recreation that does not have a negative impact on the
In view of the sensitive ecosystem,
visitors are not encourage to dive at the islands as such activities
might disturb the nesting areas of the turtles, he
Certain section of Pulau Talang-Talang would also
remain off limit to visitors due to the small size of the islands,
which coincidentally resemble the shape of a turtle when view from a
But tourists will get to enjoy nature's best gift
at the marine national park with development being planned with the
landowners and various tour agencies.
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