By Chris Shepherd, Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma
Malaysia would like to commend the Sandakan marine police on the seizure of 6,500 marine turtle eggs last week. Equally encouraging is news that it was information from the public that led enforcement officers to the discovery, and the resulting enforcement actions. While we celebrate a seizure because it deprives poachers of their ill-gotten gains, we also mourn it because a seizure often means a loss of wildlife. In this case, it is a loss of 6,500 marine turtle hatchlings.
As it is, the odds are stacked against turtles. Female turtles lay hundreds of eggs each nesting season, many of which are taken by poachers and predators. Hatchlings are picked off on their maiden journey to sea or get caught in fishing nets as they grow older. Very few young ones survive into their first year. An estimated one of 1,000 hatchlings reaches adulthood, and then breeds.
Turtles that survive such adversity take decades to reach maturity and start breeding – that is if they manage to surmount problems such as the loss of nesting beaches to coastal development, destruction of feeding grounds, water pollution, and the illegal trade for meat and turtle shell souvenirs.
Thousands of eggs lost to poachers is not just another sad story. It is a disaster for a species struggling to survive.
Laws are in place to protect marine turtles from poachers and illicit traders – Sabah's Wildlife Conservation Enactment of 1997 states that collecting or possessing any marine turtle egg without express permission carries maximum penalty of RM50,000 or five-year imprisonment, or both. More....