During my visit to the biggest flea market in Terengganu, Payang Central Market, I was shocked to see turtle eggs being sold rampantly and openly. I was even ...

During my visit to the biggest flea market in Terengganu, Payang Central Market, I was shocked to see turtle eggs being sold rampantly and openly.

I was even more startled upon being invited by the stall owner to try the eggs.

In line with the numerous calls made by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to save the turtles, a ban to stop the sale and consumption of turtle eggs in Malaysia should be enforced nationwide, not just in Sabah and Sarawak.

The conservation body has placed great mitigation efforts over the rampant smuggling and sale of turtle eggs in several States, but to no avail.

These activities are causing a reduction in nesting areas and taking some turtle populations to the brink of extinction.

The challenges of stopping turtle egg smuggling does not rest with Sabah alone and it is a threat to Malaysia’s biodiversity and national security.

Malaysia has had little success with turtle conservation since the States are left to make their own laws relating to turtles and their protection, resulting in varying standards.

While the sale of turtle eggs is prohibited in Sabah and Sarawak, this is not explicitly forbidden in Terengganu, with the exception of leatherback turtle eggs.

The situation is worsened by the fact that the lack of a national ban means the sale of turtle eggs claimed to be imported from another State or is internationally permitted.

Since it is difficult to differentiate turtle eggs by place of origin, enforcement has been challenging.

According to WWF, the eggs are believed to have come from another State, possibly Sabah, or from another country, such as the Philippines.

If these eggs are left undisturbed on the nesting beach, 70-80% of them would have hatched.

The eggs sold in Terengganu are not from leatherback turtles, as the turtles have since stopped coming to Terengganu beaches for a long time now.

While I understand that there is a need for an income for the poor turtle egg seller, one should not be doing this at the expense of the depletion of turtles on our beaches.

To truly protect the sea turtles in Malaysia, the enforcement agencies and our cultural centres must cooperate and share the responsibility.

Long-term protection of sea turtles also means developing solutions that reduce reliances on management methods requiring direct human involvement, such as moving nests or raising hatchlings in captivity.

If sea turtles cannot survive and reproduce on their own without help from humans, then they are doomed.

Feeding and nesting grounds must be protected and a public wildlife conservation ethic must be fostered to withstand gaps in government regulations, pressure from private interests, and changes in political climates.

The threats facing sea turtles are numerous and for the most part, humans are the problem.

It is very hard to change human behavior; at least there is hope for eliminating threats.

The Sea Turtle Conservancy proposes that we should do the following to protect sea turtles: Crackdown on illegal trade on sea turtles and their products by enforcing laws and agreements (which I think Malaysia is quite prompt on)Decrease turtle deaths caused by commercial fishing through enforcement of the Turtle Excluder Device (TED) and gill net regulations (which is our weak area)Protect nesting beaches by establishing parks and refuges combined with public education programmes (we have three turtle sanctuaries now)Eliminate disturbances at nesting beaches by decreasing artificial lighting and reducing impacts of people on the beachEnforce adequate dumping of pollutants and solid waste into oceans and near shore waters (which is our weak area, too)Continue research and monitoring activities so that the turtle population can be monitored and conservation efforts can be focused (which can then be enhanced)Increase public awareness and community participation in sea turtle conservation through educational programmes Sea turtles are our national pride.

They are a symbol of wisdom and knowledge and are able to defend themselves.

They personify the water, the moon, the earth, time immortal, and fertility.

Sea turtles are a charismatic megafauna and are used as symbols of marine environment.

Since their role is that of slow, peaceful creatures in culture, turtles can be misconceived as sedentary animals.

A staggering global estimate of annual capture, injury and mortality rates show 150,000 turtles of all species killed in shrimp trawls, and more than 200,000 loggerheads and 50,000 leatherbacks captured and killed through gill nets.

Plastics kill more than 100 million marine animals and turtles are major victims since they cannot distinguish between floating jellyfish – a main component of their diet – and floating plastic bags.

We can even ignore all of the above and just do one thing – stop buying turtle eggs, and eventually no one will sell them.

If the demand stops, the supply stops, too.

Let us consider our turtles seriously and stop our indiscriminate actions and activities, to allow these gentle beings to survive and remain a part of marine life for our grandchildren and future generations to appreciate.

By Ravindran Raman Kutty.

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