By Dionysius Sharma
WWF-MALAYSIA is enraged by the recent senseless loss of endangered sea turtles in Pulau Tiga, an island under the proposed Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) in Sabah. Despite efforts to protect the endangered species, and to raise awareness and build capacity of local communities in the area, poaching is still happening.
The discovery of 60 slaughtered turtles reinforces the urgent need for a concerted effort to eradicate poaching in the proposed TMP, and Sabah, in general.
The discovery reveals gaps in the enforcement of laws on turtle protection. The Sabah Wildlife Enactment and the federal Fisheries Act have provisions for turtle protection.
The needs, as observed, are as follows:
SABAH Wildlife Department needs to have assets and capacity to protect and enforce laws for marine species;
ENFORCEMENT agencies need to conduct more surveillance;
BUREAUCRACIES around the gazettement of TMP need to stop. As a multiple use and collaboratively managed park, TMP should provide a platform for collaboration among agencies and concerted effort for conservation and management of the area; and,
INTERNATIONAL and regional forums, such as the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME) Tri-National Programme and the Coral Triangle Initiative for Coral Reef, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) need to address issues, such as poaching and encroachment into our waters. Through these programmes, Malaysia needs to take the initiative to lead discussions on resolving issues on turtle poaching.
Over time, WWF-Malaysia has received reports from local communities on poaching and reported these to the authorities, but to no avail. WWF-Malaysia believes that the authorities should take seriously information received from local communities.
Their information is credible as the waters surrounding them is where they depend on for their livelihood. They are aware of what goes on and around them, especially when foreigners or outsiders encroach into their area.
They have a community system, where they look after each other's welfare, including protecting their surroundings. It is also to their benefit to ensure their resources are not exploited by outsiders.
These islanders are very concerned about encroachment because it can be dangerous for them.
WWF-Malaysia is also working closely with the local community in organising training of Honorary Wildlife Wardens (HWW) so that they can be deputised in the enforcement of the Wildlife Enactment.
We have also helped build support groups of HWW in selected villages or islands, who take on the responsibility of monitoring and patrolling their surroundings.
In Kudat, we believe there is a large turtle smuggling syndicate involving international and local groups that engage coastal and island communities to poach turtles in our waters.
It is said that the turtles are being smuggled to China, Vietnam and other eastern countries. These poachers slip through the country's borders by associating with various local counterparts, who smuggle for them.
Poaching is illegal and poachers are criminals. The authorities should take immediate action against all poaching, especially those by organised syndicates.
Sea turtles fulfil important roles in marine ecosystems. One of the functions is to maintain the seagrass beds.
Removing sea turtles from the ecosystem will have an impact on the marine ecosystem. Based on historical data in Malaysia, all turtle populations have declined.
The Leatherbacks and Olive Ridleys have declined by more than 99 per cent in Malaysia.
In Terengganu, the Green turtles, by far the most common species in Malaysia, has declined by more than 20 per cent and Hawksbill turtles by approximately 70 per cent.
Whichever way we look at it, the populations for all species have not recovered to historical figures.
WWF-Malaysia advocates amendments to be made to the Federal Constitution or any other means stipulated in the Constitution. The objective is to allow federal laws to be enacted to enable the implementation of comprehensive and holistic measures governing turtles throughout Malaysia.
Comprehensive means include identifying all measures (scientific and legal), and management and enforcement regimes (such as development guidelines and protected area management) needed to protect turtles in a holistic way.
Holistic denotes that the approach to turtles is from a conservation viewpoint which addresses every threat that affects turtles.