Saving Malaysian sea turtles

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Malaysia – Through its Sea Turtle Research Unit (SEATRU), Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) started its the sea turtle research in 1984, pioneering research on the leatherback turtles at Rantau Abang. This led to a sea turtle conservation project at Chagar Hutang, Redang Island in May 1993, aimed at saving the declining population of green and hawksbill turtles.

Over the following two decades (1993–2016), UMT has protected more than 12,000 sea turtle nests, and out of these about 700,000 healthy hatchlings have returned to the sea to replenish the future sea turtle stock in Redang Island. Long-term protection of sea turtles and their eggs at nesting beaches that results in maintaining high hatchling output is shown to be an effective and essential conservation strategy. In 2001, the conservation effort at Chagar Hutang was recognised by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

A tagging program was initiated since 1993 and complete nesting data was obtained. In addition, proper conservation and management techniques have been introduced to increase the hatching success rate of turtle eggs. Using biotelemetry techniques, inter-nesting behaviour of sea turtles during their breeding season and migration back to their feeding grounds were also determined. Radio-telemetry attached on the leatherback turtles has enabled the identification of inter-nesting habitats of leatherback turtles in Rantau Abang, resulting in the legal establishment of an offshore sanctuary for these animals. At the end of the breeding season, green turtles are attached with satellite telemetry to determine their foraging grounds. The green turtles from Redang Island were found to forage at Brunei Bay, Natuna Island, Philippines (Sulu Sea) and Bangka Island, Indonesia. The findings are very important and prove the long distance migration of the Malaysian green turtles.

In recent years, genetic studies have also conducted to determine the sea turtle mating behaviour, population structure and the natal origin of the mixed-stock at foraging grounds. The vital information resulting from all the studies have formed the basis for many important recommendations to relevant government agencies for the conservation of sea turtles in Malaysia.

Apart from carrying out conservation-oriented research on sea turtles, UMT is also directly involved in education of university students, school children, and the public at large on the conservation of sea turtles. The long-term sea turtle conservation project at Redang Island is supported by donations from public and corporate agencies, through the Adopt a Turtle/ Nest programme and the Sea Turtle Volunteer programme.