Sunday, 14 April 2024
Kampung Here and Now The Terengganu Leatherback story
The Terengganu Leatherback story PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 12 October 2009 21:12

LeatherbackBy SV Singam


Practically everyone in Malaysia would know of the Leatherback turtle, the mascot and symbol of Terengganu state. What most people will not be aware of is that the Leatherback of Terengganu is in danger of becoming extinct! No more, nothing left!

The Rantau Abang beach in Terengganu used to provide the ideal environment for Leatherbacks to lay their eggs.


Back in the 1950s, 10,000 nestings per year was not uncommon. Nowadays, we will be lucky to see even 10 nestings in a year. In some years, there have been none! No nestings at all!


And even the few instances where there are nestings, the eggs have failed to hatch. We are in real danger of losing this famous icon.

The irony of it all is that Terengganu is the earliest state in the peninsula to begin protection efforts and the only one that has enacted laws specifically aimed at protecting Leatherbacks.


In Terengganu, a wide stretch of the Rantau Abang beach has been protected for the Leatherbacks to nest and a couple of the islands have now been gazetted to protect Green turtles. Moreover, the selling of Leatherback eggs is a crime punishable by law.

But the law does not stop poachers from stealing onto protected beaches in Terengganu and raiding freshly laid nests. And it is perfectly legal to sell those eggs in Johor Bahru or Kuala Lumpur.

And that is the situation we have today. Despite Terengganu having enacted legislation and taken action to protect them, the Leatherbacks are under threat of extinction.

What about the rest of the country?

There are four species of marine turtle that nest in this part of the world. The biggest of these and the best known is the Leatherback. These nest exclusively in Terengganu. When they stop nesting, their story will end.

Next in size is the Green Turtle, nesting in Sabah, Sarawak, Terengganu, Perak, Pahang and Johor and believed to nest elsewhere as well. These are the most prolific although their numbers have also declined.

The Hawksbills nest in four regions. More than 600 nestings per year have been recorded on Turtle Island in Sabah. Melaka recorded more than 350 nestings last year. There are around 100 nestings per year along the east coast of Johor and another 20 or so nestings in Terengganu.

The smallest of these species, the Olive Ridleys have been sighted mostly in Penang where there are estimated to be around 10 nestings per year. Some fragmentary sightings have also been reported in Sarawak, Terengganu and Kelantan.


Endangered Species

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has identified the Leatherback and Hawksbill as critically endangered and the Olive Ridley and Green Turtles as endangered (Liew, H.C. Proceedings of the Western Pacific Sea Turtle Cooperative Research & Management Workshop, 2002).


Eng-Heng Chan of the Turtle Research and Rehabilitation Unit, Institute of Oceanography, Kolej Universiti Sains dan Teknologi Malaysia (KUSTEM) has suggested in her 2006 paper “Marine Turtles in Malaysia: On the verge of extinction?” that “current statistics indicate that the Leatherback and Olive Ridley turtles are on the verge of extinction while the other species ... are in steady decline”.


Abdul Wahab Abdullah and Zulkifli Talib of the Department of Fisheries, Malaysia have reported here that while the Leatherbacks are nearly extinct, Hawksbills and Olive Ridleys have declined by more than 80% and Greens by more than 60%.


These species are endangered because of a number of reasons.

  • The consumption of turtle eggs has increased because of belief that the eggs have aphrodisiac or medicinal value.
  • Development at or near nesting sites has disturbed the natural environment and made nesting impossible or increased the risk to eggs and young hatchlings thereby diminishing their chances of survival.
  • Careless tourism has exposed egg laying females to light and sound pollution as well as direct harassment while laying the eggs.
  • Climate and other changes have led to the decline in the number of male turtles hatching which has resulted in many laid clutches of eggs turning out to be unfertilised.
  • Accidental capture in fishing gears in national and international waters has also been identified as a major cause of their decline.

If firm, comprehensive action is not taken immediately, the Hawksbill may soon become as threatened with extinction as the Leatherbacks and Olive Ridleys.

The following table shows the situation with respect to turtle nestings in Malaysia.


Shell size


Nestings per year

The 50s

2000 - 2005


150 cm





100 cm

Sabah, Sarawak, Terengganu

Pahang, Johor, Perak




80 cm


No data








Olive Ridley

60 cm

Penang, Sarawak, Terengganu, Kelantan


Chan EH, Bali JH Liew, 1991, 2001, 2004


Turtle conservation in Malaysia

There is currently no uniform law applicable nationwide on the management and conservation of marine wildlife. Each state is free to adopt its own policies and guidelines.

Sarawak has updated conservation measures under the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998 that prohibits exploitation and trade in all marine turtles, their eggs and any derivative parts. Sabah prohibits commercial exploitation of turtles and their eggs. Legislation in other states remains inadequate.

Terengganu has now imposed a ban on the sale of Leatherback eggs. The Rantau Abang beaches where Leatherbacks are known to have nested are now protected during the nesting season. The Fisheries Department has also enacted laws for offshore protection of marine turtles, particularly off the Terengganu coast.

In all of the other states, the best that has been done so far is the establishment of hatcheries for turtle egg protection and incubation programmes. Despite the best efforts of the Fisheries Department, the state governments have not been able to appreciate the need for a more comprehensive approach to turtle conservation.

Search RSS
Only registered users can write comments!
Wai Meng  - Leatherback |2010-11-04 16:48:19
Are there any more stats on the Leatherbacks in 2010? Is the fishery department in Terengganu hatching eggs and releasing them to the wild?

Your are currently browsing this site with Internet Explorer 6 (IE6).

Your current web browser must be updated to version 7 of Internet Explorer (IE7) to take advantage of all of template's capabilities.

Why should I upgrade to Internet Explorer 7? Microsoft has redesigned Internet Explorer from the ground up, with better security, new capabilities, and a whole new interface. Many changes resulted from the feedback of millions of users who tested prerelease versions of the new browser. The most compelling reason to upgrade is the improved security. The Internet of today is not the Internet of five years ago. There are dangers that simply didn't exist back in 2001, when Internet Explorer 6 was released to the world. Internet Explorer 7 makes surfing the web fundamentally safer by offering greater protection against viruses, spyware, and other online risks.

Get free downloads for Internet Explorer 7, including recommended updates as they become available. To download Internet Explorer 7 in the language of your choice, please visit the Internet Explorer 7 worldwide page.