Trees for Turtles and Coastal Erosion Control
Melaka: A plan to rehabilitate Padang Kemunting as an optimal turtle nesting beach and as a measure of erosion control was unfolded during a tree planting event organised jointly by the state Department of Fisheries and WWF-Malaysia. This event, held under the banner of Padang Kemunting Turtle-Friendly Village initiative, was graced by the chairman of the state Agriculture, Entrepreneur Development and Agro-based committee, Norhizam Hassan Baktee and involved nearby community college students and representatives from four coastal villages of Padang Kemunting, Pengkalan Balak, Pasir Gembur and Balik Batu.
According to the state Fisheries Department director, Johari Tim, “Melaka is one of the last strongholds in Malaysia for this critically endangered species of sea turtles. Annually, 400-500 nestings are recorded in Melaka making this the biggest nesting population in Peninsular Malaysia. Padang Kemunting is known as one of the main nesting areas for hawksbills, with an average annual landing of over 100 nests, which contributes to 25-30% of the total number of nesting in Melaka. The Turtle Conservation and Information Centre, managed by the Department of Fisheries, was also established here in 1990 due to its proximity to the prime nesting beach.”
“Despite its undeniable importance, Padang Kemunting beach remains unprotected,” Dr Robecca Jumin, head of WWF-Malaysia’s Marine Programme explains. “The main threat to nesting hawksbill turtles in Melaka is unsustainable coastal development, which has boomed in the past three decades. Much of the coastline in Melaka has been transformed into an urban landscape with more beaches becoming unsuitable for nesting. Protection of remaining prime nesting beaches is urgent and vital towards the survival of this species.”
Major threats to marine turtles as a consequent of coastal development include artificial coastal lighting and beach erosion. Artificial lights from nearby infrastructure and buildings create brightly lit beaches which impact the natural nesting behaviour of the nesting females and the sea-finding instinct of hatchlings. Nesting turtles prefer to nest on dark secluded beaches and would avoid lighted areas. On the other hand, hatchlings, upon emerging from the sand surface on a dark night would navigate towards the lightest horizon on their way down the beach into the safer nearshore waters. With artificial lights, the hatchlings are prone to disorientation and would head towards the lights instead of towards the water.
This tree planting event is the first in a series of tree planting activities, focussing on rehabilitating 1km of Padang Kemunting nesting beach. The trees will eventually create a natural light shield that reduces the artificial lights. Native coastal vegetation planted includes beach naupaka (local name ‘ambong-ambong’, Scaveola taccada), sea almond (local name ‘ketapang’, Terminalia catappa) and Calophyllum inophyllum (local name ‘bintangor laut’).
“Rehabilitation of the beach by replanting with native coastal vegetation will help the survival of endangered hawksbill turtles at Padang Kemunting. As the trees grow, not only do they create a natural light shield against the artificial lights, they also reduce coastal erosion, and in the long term minimise disturbance to nesting turtles and hatchlings,” said Norhizam Hassan Baktee, the state chairman for Agriculture, Entrepreneur Development and Agro-based committee, in his officiating speech.
“We strongly believe that these efforts will also play a significant role in building the resilience of Padang Kemunting beach to combat the effect of climate change which includes sea level rise. We need to collectively stop the population decline of Malaysia’s iconic natural heritage – marine turtles,” added Dr Robecca Jumin.
Dr Jumin also expressed WWF-Malaysia’s hope to work together in smart partnership with the state government in protecting the critical nesting habitats of the hawksbill turtles in Melaka and lauded the state government’s move to call off reclamation works surrounding Pulau Upeh, the turtle island of Melaka. She further hopes that the state government will review the proposed Kuala Linggi International Port which involves large scale reclamation due to its proximity to key nesting beaches of Tanjung Serai, Meriam Patah and Tanjung Dahan.
Encik Johari Tim further adds that the collaborators of this event hope more partners will join in these activities in the future and is looking forward to replicate this effort at other key nesting beaches in the state.
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For more information, please contact:
Senior Communications and Campaigns Officer, Marine Programme, WWF-Malaysia (Sabah office)
Tel: +60 88 262 420, Ext.127