WWF-Malaysia on captive sea turtles at Turtle Sculpture Gallery

Letter to Editor: "Proposed Turtle Sculpture Gallery" in Negeri Sembilan
WWF-Malaysia 5 Dec 12;

Dear Editor

WWF-Malaysia spots ‘red flags’ in the proposed RM10 million Turtle Sculpture Gallery that will be established in Negeri Sembilan as reported by New Straits Times in ‘Malaysia’s first turtle gallery’, 27 November 2012.

The national conservation trust expresses its concern over the statements made by State Executive Councillor in charge of Culture, Arts, Heritage and Malay Customs, Datuk Mohammad Radzi Kail. The article quoted Y.B. Datuk Mohammad Radzi as saying that the turtle sculpture cum gallery would be the first of its kind in the world once completed. Cited as a collaboration between Port Dickson Municipal Council and Glory Beach Resort, the turtle statue would be a major boost to the tourism industry in the country and was part of the continuing efforts by Glory Beach Resort to help protect and conserve endangered turtles.

WWF-Malaysia firmly deems the argument behind this proposed turtle venture as being flawed from the start.

The first concern is that “the gallery would feature an aquarium, where the four species of turtles would be displayed.” The four marine turtle species that can be found in Malaysia are either listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Nesting populations have also plummeted from its historical figures where we see a 99.9% decline of Leatherbacks, 95% for Olive Ridleys, and more than 60% decline in population for the Green Turtles. There have been no recorded nestings of Leatherbacks in Malaysia for the last three years, and Hawksbill populations in Terengganu, Johor and other states have declined by more than 60% where currently only remnant numbers remain.

Exhibiting any wildlife species especially those which are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered in an artificial environment is not something that Malaysia should aim to showcase to the public and to the world at large. Keeping marine turtles in captivity goes against the norm of turtle conservation, whereby it also deprives the marine ecosystem of the ecological benefits turtle provide while in its natural habitat.

The article also stated that “the aquarium will be connected to a pond where the turtles could lay eggs." Turtles do not lay eggs in a pond, but instead migrate from their foraging areas hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometers away, mate and come to shore to nest and lay their eggs on a selected sandy beach. Kept in captivity and forced to lay their eggs in a pond disrupts the natural pattern of the turtle behaviour. Since there is still a lot of knowledge gap in issues related to turtle biology, interfering with their natural nesting behaviour may prove to be detrimental to the well-being and future of an already endangered/critically endangered wildlife.

While the shortcomings of this proposal are apparent, WWF-Malaysia acknowledges Glory Beach Resort’s intention to play their role in turtle conservation. Therefore, WWF-Malaysia recommends for the respective stakeholders of this project to reconsider their proposal for a Turtle Gallery.

If the parties are truly interested in conservation and the well-being of the species, WWF-Malaysia recommends that the RM10 million allocated be used to build a professionally run and well-equipped centre for marine turtle research and rehabilitation centre – the first of its kind in this country, if not in this region. This would imply that turtles injured from ingesting fishing hooks or other foreign material, accidentally hit by a boat, or incapacitated in whatever way, can be given professional medical treatment and rehabilitated accordingly before being released back into the ocean. For this purpose, it is only appropriate that this project’s proposal be socialized with the Department of Fisheries which is the authority responsible for matters pertaining to turtles and their conservation in this country. WWF-Malaysia believes that this would be a more meaningful utilisation of the funds allocated, and most importantly, to the fledgling turtle population.

Dato’ Dr Dionysius S.K. Sharma, D.P.M.P.
Executive Director/CEO