Malaysia: Rapid land reclamation could lead to hawksbill turtles shying from Malacca

KELLY KOH New Straits Times 9 Nov 16;

MALACCA: While other threats remain imminent, the critically-endangered hawksbill turtles that begin life along Malacca's coast could be driven to extinction by rapid land reclamation.

While the Malacca government, Tanjung Bidara assemblyman Datuk Md Rawi Mahmud announced on Monday, a plan to gazette an 800m stretch of beach along Padang Kamunting to Air Hitam Darat as a turtle sanctuary, much more may be needed to save the hawksbill turtles.

The hallmark of Malacca's future sprawling development stretching further into the Malacca Straits, massive land fills began to emerge in the 1970s and synonymous with the decline in numbers of turtle landings along the coast North of Klebang.

The World Wildlife Fund Malaysia (WWF) is proposing to conduct a study to quantify the impacts of climate change and coastal reclamation that they will have on turtles.

Malacca Turtle Conservation WWF-Malaysia Team Leader Lau Min Min said while acknowledging that beach activities, climate change, fishing and poaching as among the threats to sea turtles, a study on the effects of coastal reclamation would provide a concrete answer on the cause of decline.

"Right now, we believe that reclamation near Klebang along the Straits of Malacca causes the decline in turtle landings in Pulau Upeh, which is the largest hawksbill turtle nesting beach in Peninsular Malaysia.

"The number of turtle landings in Pulau Upeh dropped five times since 2011 from 111 landings to only 13 landings as of October this year,” she told the New Straits Times here, yesterday.

She said although there were no nesting beaches near Pulau Melaka, where the reclamation for mega-projects are, its cause-and-effect could possibly be felt only years later.

"Turtles were sighted swimming in the ocean near Pulau Melaka, but they were not there to lay their eggs.

"But the effects of coastal development cannot be felt instantly. It may only be felt miles and kilometres away at other nesting beaches years later.

“By then, it will be too late as turtle landings would have been gone. Who will take the blame and reverse its effects?," she said.

She added that the actual cause of decline in the number of turtle landings can be identified after the study completes, and WWF could be more concrete with their answers supported by facts and figures by next year.

Adult female turtles would return to the beach where they hatch to lay their eggs.

With beaches continue facing threats, it would reduce the number of nesting beaches in the state, resulting in further decline to the critically endangered hawksbill turtle.

There are 18 nesting beaches in Malacca, with Padang Kemunting and northern Linggi area such as Tanjung Serai, Tanjung Dahan and Meriam Patah recording higher turtle landings.

Lau acknowledged the fact that hatching success also declined due to rising temperature, which not only lead to changes in sex ratios or potentially result in mortality, but also the death of hatchlings.

"Hatchlings are sensitive creatures and could not even withstand an increase in one or two Celsius as they are not incubated naturally, but with other hatchlings which are also emitting heat in our centre," she said.

She commended efforts by the Malacca government to gazette the stretch of beach along Padang Kemunting to Air Hitam Darat as a turtle sanctuary.

"At present, there are no beaches in Malacca being gazetted as turtle sanctuaries and this is a good beginning," she said.

Tanjung Bidara assemblyman Datuk Md Rawi Mahmud on Monday said the proposal would forbid night activities along the 800-metre stretch of beach, following concerns of a dwindling number of turtle landings in the state.

Rawi said that this was to prevent more places which were once turtle landing sites to perish like the one in Rantau Abang, Terengganu.

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