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Kampung Here and Now Turtle hatcheries an inadequate solution
Turtle hatcheries an inadequate solution PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 12 October 2009 21:08

By SV Singam


Turtle eggs are a delicacy in many parts of the world. Turtle shells and other turtle parts are sought after for making handicrafts. Turtle meat is is also in much demand for medicinal purposes. Because of these and other reasons, turtles have become endangered species. In some of these places, local authorities, in collaboration with the WWF, have been taking conservation measures to arrest the decline in sightings and nestings.

Turtles generally live in the deeper waters off the coasts, particularly near coral reefs, where they feed and mate. Females return to the beach where they were hatched to lay their eggs. At the time the eggs are laid, the embryo is floating free and is cushioned by the fluids within the egg. This is why it does not suffer damage when the eggs fall into the hole dug by the mother.



Shortly after the eggs are laid, the embryo attaches to the wall of the egg and proceeds to develop into a hatchling. All the eggs of a clutch hatch around the same time. Immediately upon hatching, the hatchlings dig their way out of the nest and head towards the water.


They have sufficient food reserve to swim until they reach the safety of deeper waters. Hatchlings are most vulnerable on the beach and in the shallow waters where surface predators can attack them. Once they reach deeper waters, their chances of survival improve tremendously.


In Terengganu as well as in Sabah and Sarawak, where legislation is in place and beaches can be protected, the egg clutches are mostly left undisturbed, hatch naturally and the hatchlings head out to open sea.


Those clutches have a good chance of surviving and proliferating.


In those states that do not have specific legislation to protect beaches, even though other available legislation can be used for the purpose, the state governments either do not understand the need or fail to appreciate the importance of turtle protection.


The best that the Fisheries Department has been able to do is to establish hatcheries.

Hatcheries are places that have been set up by the Fisheries Department for turtle eggs to be looked after until they hatch. The Department gives out licences for egg collection to the locals who collect the eggs and sell them to the department. These eggs are then re-buried in the sand at the hatchery and looked after until they hatch and the hatchlings successfully reach the sea.

Hatcheries add two additional risk factors to the successful hatching of turtle eggs:

First of all, eggs have to be moved as soon as possible after the hatching. And the recommendation is that they are carefully placed in buckets for transportation. Unfortunately, there is no way to control what the egg collectors actually do. They may find it more convenient to place collected eggs in plastic bags that often jostle as they are being moved.

Furthermore, having camped out much of the night waiting for the eggs to be laid, handing in the eggs to the hatchery may be the last thing on the collector's mind. He is likely to stop for breakfast and even run a few other errands before going to the hatchery. Many of these eggs do not survive the transportation and fail to hatch.

Those eggs that do hatch face another hazard. For management and control purposes, the hatchery necessarily has to be close to the Fisheries Department office and away from public beaches. This is likely to be an area with relatively high light pollution. The light pollution confuses the hatchlings that often end up going in the wrong direction, away from the seas.

Nests are therefore caged to contain the hatchlings immediately upon hatching. After the entire clutch has hatched, the hatchlings are taken to the water edge and released. But by that time, some part of their food reserve would already have been consumed. If they begin feeding in shallower waters, they are exposed to predators. If they try to reach deeper waters, they may not have sufficient food reserve to survive the journey.

Therefore, laudable as the idea of hatcheries is, and despite the measurable success in arresting the decline of the Hawksbills in Melaka, this is far from the best we can do for turtle conservation.

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