Letter to Editor: Sabah Turtle Egg Seizure
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 particular case, it is a loss of 6,500 marine turtle hatchlings.
As it is, all the odds are stacked against turtles. Female turtles lay hundreds of eggs each nesting season, many of which are taken by poachers and predators from the word go. 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 1 of 10,000 hatchlings reaches adulthood, and then breed.
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 already 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 expressed permission carries maximum penalty of RM50,000 or five-year imprisonment, or both.
Seizures are taking place. Based on press reports between 2004-2012, at least 20,255 marine turtle parts have been seized in Malaysia; 99% of which are eggs. Other seizures have been made, including live turtles and shells. The most remarkable seizure occurred in 2007 when Marine Police stopped a fishing boat from China’s Hainan province near the coast of Sabah and found more than 200 Green and Hawksbill turtles on board; only 20 of which were alive. Altogether, an estimated 13,200 turtles have been seized in Sabah alone; representing 65% of seizures nationwide, the largest of which took place in 2008 when Marine Police seized 10,000 turtle eggs from four men in Sandakan. Between June 2006 to December 2012, 108 Green and 5 Hawksbill turtle nests were documented to be poached or depredated in the northeast islands of Semporna based on monitoring surveys by WWF-Malaysia, Sabah Wildlife Department and resort operators, as well as interviews with the local community.
Yet, we hear little about offenders being arrested or prosecuted.
It is clear that this trade, especially when carried out across international borders, such as that between Malaysia and the Philippines, is not easy to tackle.
International cooperation is required. As such, we call upon all Southeast Asian nations to make a concerted effort to bring turtle egg poachers and traffickers to book; within their own borders and all along the illegal trade chain, from the sandy beach nesting sites, to the bustling urban markets.
Dr Chris Shepherd
Deputy Regional Director
TRAFFIC Southeast Asia
Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma