THERE is a need to have uniform laws, as states enforce their regulations, including those on illegal trade, and the ban on turtle egg consumption.
Stringent laws, matched with increased effort in public education, may provide hope to the endangered species.
In its analysis and experience on the ground, World Wildlife Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF Malaysia) showed that state laws governing turtles were inadequate and unable to protect turtles.
“There is no uniformity of laws on turtles in Malaysia, which creates loopholes in the enforcement of laws.
“In the peninsula, comprehensive banning of turtle egg possession and trade for all species has yet to be enacted, and thus, continues to be a huge problem for enforcement.
“Sabah and Sarawak have accorded protection to turtle eggs for all species for decades,” said WWF Malaysia’s Melaka Hawksbill Turtle conservation project team leader Lau Min Min recently.
She said the turtle trade mostly happened in Sabah, where turtles were poached from the waters and eggs were smuggled in from neighbouring countries.
In Sabah, turtles are a “Totally Protected Species” under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 managed by the Sabah Wildlife Department. The high demand for turtle meat and shells in the international black market, compounded by the large areas of water surrounding Sabah, proved a challenge for surveillance, detection and enforcement, providing easy access to poachers.
“Due to the numerous cases of illegal retrieval documented in the past few years, enforcement agencies teamed up and established a state-wide turtle anti-smuggling task force in 2015 to increase enforcement in selected areas where poaching and trade regularly happened.
“WWF Malaysia provides technical support to the agencies and pushes for improved enforcement efforts,” Lau said.
The laws, she said, must also cover protection of beaches identified as turtle nesting sites through gazettement to prevent encroachment and deter poachers.
She said while Melaka’s beaches had the highest nesting population of the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, with 400 nests identified, none of them had been gazetted as turtle sanctuaries.
The nesting population of hawksbill turtles recorded from 2006 to 2015 in Melaka was stable, with approximately 400 nestings yearly.
“However, based on data recorded for Pulau Upeh, the turtle island of Melaka, the population has declined by more than 50 per cent in the last 10 years. Loss of habitat due to rapid coastal development continues to threaten the future of this species. Melaka is home to the second largest population of this species in Malaysia.
“In Terengganu, however, the population of hawksbill turtle has declined by more than 90 per cent compared with 20 years ago.”
Lau said the population of leatherbacks, one of the most iconic turtles in the world, had plummeted from more than 10,000 nestings in the 1950s to zero in the last six years, while the Olive Ridley turtle population in Malaysia had similarly recorded a drop of 99.9 per cent.
“Green turtles, on the other hand, showed positive changes, with more eggs being secured for incubation following intensified patrolling during the annual nesting season, and an increase of more than 40 per cent in nestings recorded in the last 25 years.”
In Sabah, the main turtle nesting population is in the Turtle Island Park in Sandakan, managed by Sabah Parks.
The three islands in the park are home to one of the largest populations of green and hawksbill females in Malaysia.
In recent years, based on Sabah Parks’ data, there has been a general increase in green turtle nestings and a decrease in hawksbill nestings.