Project Orion - Rovering with Turtles
is the 2nd Scouts of the World Award (SWA) Voluntary Service Project of the SWA Singapore Base.

Led by 9 Rover Scouts from Singapore and Malaysia, the project is set upon

the beautiful wetlands and beaches of Setiu, Terengganu.

Lasting 16 days from 20th June to 5th July, the team will not only be contributing to the

conservation of sea turtles, but will also be involved in mangrove replanting,
repair work for the villagers and WWF info centre, English and conservation awareness education,
assistance in the local women's cottage industry amongst many others.

"Leave the place a little better than you first found it." - Lord Baden Powell
UPDATE: The blog will be updated from time to time with more turtle new issues. However, Project Orion blog will be replaced by the next project when it starts with the new team. So, DO STAY TUNED!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Japan sends rare turtles to Singapore for release

SINGAPORE — Thirteen endangered sea turtles bred in captivity in Japan have been given to a Singapore aquarium to prepare them for release into a natural habitat later this year, scientists said Friday.

The hawksbill turtles, listed as a highly endangered species, were brought to Singapore by their Japanese caretakers Tomomi Saito and Yoshihiko Kanou from the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium.

The five one-year-old turtles and eight three-year-olds were turned over on Thursday to the Underwater World Singapore, which is collaborating with the Nagoya aquarium to release the animals.

They are the offspring of hawksbill turtles donated by the Underwater World Singapore to the Nagoya aquarium in 1997 and 2002.

As part of the preparations, staff from the Singapore aquarium will monitor and conduct checks on the turtles to determine their fitness for the release scheduled in September.

"With the success of their breeding... we would want to have some of these captive-bred turtles return to the wild," said Anthony Chang, curator of the Underwater World Singapore.

He said that releasing older turtles that are bred in captivity will improve their chances of survival.

"We know that on the beaches, when turtle eggs hatch, people will poach them," Chang told AFP.

"The turtles may be collected by people and they may be eaten up. The survivability of the small babies is very, very low."

Turtle soup is a delicacy in parts of Asia. Turtle shell is turned into powder and used as an ingredient for a jelly dessert.

Prior to their release, the turtles will be fitted with satellite devices attached to the back of their shells, allowing the scientists to learn about their migratory behaviour and survivability.

Their findings will be reported at an international convention on biological diversity in Nagoya in October.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bali Police Pull Endangered Turtles From the Pot

Denpasar. Bali Police announced on Wednesday that they had rescued 71 endangered green turtles being kept for their meat.

Some of the turtles “were so big it took three people to lift each one,” Andi Taqdir Rahmantiro, director of the Bali Police’s detectives unit said, adding that the biggest turtles weighed as much as 200 kilograms each.

Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) were once commonly used in ritual sacrifices across the predominantly Hindu island, while their meat is a traditional delicacy. In recent years, however, there has been a shift toward symbolic sacrifices where the animals are released alive into the sea.

Andi said the animals were seized on Wednesday from a warehouse in Denpasar owned by Jero Mangku Buda. He added Buda had long fronted as a pork vendor, but actually sold turtle meat on the sly.

Police had staked out Buda’s food stall for months before posing as potential turtle meat buyers to make the arrest. During questioning, the suspect told investigators about the warehouse, just 200 meters away from the food stall.

Buda said he had bought the consignment of turtles for Rp 35 million ($3,850) from a fisherman at Amed Harbor in Karangasem a day earlier, who in turn had netted them in the Sulawesi Sea.

He did not tell police whether he had killed or sold any from the batch, but said he often sold off entire turtles for Rp 700,000 each, while serving up turtle meat for Rp 45,000 a portion.

“He says he’s only done it once before, but we’re not buying it,” Bali Police spokesman Gde Sugianyar Dwi Putra said. “In the meantime, we’re tracking down the supplier.”

Buda would likely be charged with poaching, which could see him face up to five years in prison and Rp 100 million in fines, Sugianyar said.

Police will deliver the 71 turtles to the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) office in Bali, which plans to release them into the sea from Kuta Beach.

“For now, though, we’ll keeping them at the turtle conservation center in Serangan,” BKSDA Bali head Pamen Sitorus said.

Indonesia implemented a turtle trade ban in 1999, and rejected a proposal last year by Bali Governor I Made Mangku Pastika to set an annual quota of 1,000 animals for sacrificial ceremonies. However, high demand has driven the trade underground, with police foiling several smuggling attempts in recent years.

In February 2009, police stopped a boat carrying 26 turtles, while in July a shipment of 42 turtles from Java was foiled. In September, authorities seized 140 kilograms of turtle meat.

Too old for this: A police officer sprays dozens of turtles with water at the Bali Police Headquarters on Wednesday. The police confiscated 71 turtles – all believed to be more than seventy years old – from a suspected illegal trader who had transported the animals from Sulawesi. JP/Zul Trio Anggono, from Jakarta Post 19 May 10;

Indonesian police seize 71 green turtles
Yahoo News 19 May 10;

DENPASAR, Indonesia (AFP) – Indonesian police said Wednesday they had rescued 71 endangered green sea turtles after a raid on a warehouse on the holiday island of Bali.

The animals were alive but with their flippers tied with rope after police investigated suspicious activity by the 55-year-old warehouse owner, senior detective Andi Rahmantiro told AFP.

The turtles were probably destined for local food markets, he added.

"We have been eyeing the area for a while but we needed stronger evidence. Yesterday our officers raided the location because the information was certain," Rahmantiro said.

"The suspect confessed to planning to sell the turtles for 700,000 rupiah (77 dollars) each. On the market they can actually reach about two to four million rupiah each."

An estimated 100,000 green sea turtles are killed in the Indo-Australian archipelago each year, mostly for their meat, according to environmental group WWF.

Turtle meat is a traditional part of the Balinese diet but consumption has fallen since its peak in the 1970s thanks to greater awareness of the species and its importance to the local tourism industry.

Rahmantiro said the rescued turtles, most of which were more than 10 years old, would be released back into the sea.

The warehouse owner faces up to five years in jail for violating conservation laws.

Indonesian police seize 71 giant turtles in Bali
Associated Press Google News 19 May 10;

DENPASAR, Indonesia — Indonesian police have confiscated 71 endangered giant sea turtles from a food stall on the resort island of Bali, an officer said Wednesday.

The owner of the stall was arrested when the giant green turtles, named chelonia mydas, were found inside his storehouse in Denpasar, chief detective Col. Andi Taqdir Rahmantiro said.

Rahmantiro said the stall owner told police he purchased the turtles, with an average size of more than 3.3 feet (one meter), from fishermen who caught them in waters off Sulawesi island.

Turtle meat is a traditional delicacy in the predominantly Hindu province of Bali, although Indonesia has banned turtle trade and consumption due to concerns about dwindling numbers and threats by animal welfare groups of a tourist boycott of Bali.

Turtles are among several protected species in Indonesia, a vast nation of 17,000 islands.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Volunteers: The Saviours Of Turtles in Malaysia

KUALA TERENGGANU, May 18 (Bernama) -- It is most unfortunate that the turtle that has survived since the Jurassic era, about 145 to 208 million years ago, is now on the verge of extinction.

It is among the creatures that can live up to 100 years but nowadays its lifespan has been shortened due to natural threats and the threats caused by humankind.

The turtle eggs is relished by humans and other animals and new turtle hatchlings are easy prey for monitor lizards and birds before they can make it to the sea.

In the sea, the fishermen's nets are the main contributor for turtle fatalities. But there are some who care for the turtles and are taking the efforts to boost the turtle population.


In Malaysia, the Sea Turtle Research Unit (SEATRU) of Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) is among the agencies entrusted with the task to conduct studies and conservation activities since 1993.

Through the Turtle Volunteer programme the public, including foreigners, have the opportunity to be directly involved in conservation activities.

The unit was established by two UMT lecturers, Prof Dr Chan Eng Heng and Associate Prof Liew Hock Chark, but since both have retired it is now being headed by Dr Juanita Joseph.

Juanita, 36, from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, who is also a lecturer with UMT's Faculty Of Maritime Studies and Marine Science noted that the turtle volunteer programme is also conducted by other conservation centres of the world.

"This programme is to create awareness and provide a chance for the public to take part in turtle conservation efforts, and to help finance the turtle conservation programme in Chagar Hutang," she told Bernama, recently.


The activities under this programme are considered standard activities in conserving turtles all over the world, with the volunteers monitoring the turtle's nest, keeping the preying beasts at bay and analyze the hatchlings, clean up the beach and assist in research work.

The four turtle species that land in the country are the Green turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and the Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea).

However, the Chagar Hutang beach in Pulau Redang only receives the Green and the Hawksbill turtle. Pulau Redang is one of the 10 most beautiful islands of the world and declared a turtle sanctuary in 2005.

From 1993 to 2004, SEATRU had spent RM500,000 to purchase turtle eggs from licensed sellers with the green turtle eggs costing RM120 per nest and RM150 for hawksbill.


Hitherto, SEATRU has received 3,000 volunteers from Malaysia, Singapore, German, United Kingdom, France, Australia and China since the program began in 1993.

For this year, SEATRU's Turtle Volunteer Programme is from April 3 to Oct 2 with all the 30 slots offered already taken up by foreigners and locals.

"The response for this programme is very encouraging though the programme was not widely publicised. Many become keen to participate after learning of the programme from their friends or relatives who have volunteered.

"I was surprised that we received more than 200 emails an hour after online registration was opened on Feb 14 through SEATRU's website," said Juanita adding that those keen to participate had to be above 18.

Each volunteer is to be on the island for a week during each slot with each slot having eight volunteers.


The volunteers, who will be assisted by research assistants, will start work at 7 pm beginning with beach patrol and when a turtle lands to lay eggs they will be observing from a comfortable distance.

"Normally, the tracks left by the turtles while getting on shore indicates their presence.

"When the turtle finds a suitable place to lay its eggs, it will start the body pitting before it starts digging the nest. The egg laying process takes between 3 and 5 hours," she said.

Volunteers can only get near the turtle after the reptile has completed laying eggs.

As the turtle is highly sensitive to light, the use of light at the beach is not allowed including the camera's flash.


After midnight, volunteers patrol with SEATRU staff in shifts up to 6 am.

During the day, volunteers will take turns to patrol to make sure the turtle nests are not disturbed or the eggs eaten by preys.

In the evenings, volunteers are to inspect the nests and the hatchlings or eggs that have been incubated more than 45 days to determine the hatching rate and see the reasons why the eggs have yet to hatch.

"Based on the studies conducted in year 2000, we learned that the turtle's gender is determined by the incubation temperature, with the males coming from nests under shade while the females coming from nests in the open," noted Juanita.

However, based on the observation in the sanctuary, the mother turtle that lands is the one that chooses the nest under the shade or in the open.

"At Chagar Hutang, the male and female turtles that hatch are almost in equal numbers. The hatching rate of 77 to 89 percent is also encouraging and since 1993 about 350,000 Green turtle and 7,000 Hawksbill have hatched here," she said.


Other than conservation activities lined up by SEATRU, volunteers will have their own time to indulge in some interesting activities.

"There is the chance for the volunteers to savour the beauty of nature, without the disruption from telephone or Internet...there were also some who grumbled because they missed Facebook but soon they overcame their disappointment," she said.

Other than turtles, Chagar Hutang is also the home for wildlife like mousedeer, squirrel, moths and butterflies, bats and birds.

"The Chagar Hutang bay area is also known as 'Turtle Bay' that is rich in coral species and beautiful fishes. Volunteers often love to snorkel here," she said.

Volunteers also take the opportunity to climb up the 'Turtle Rock', the rock that resembles a giant turtle, which the locals believe attracts turtles to land there.

They can also test their pain endurance by allowing their legs to be 'cleaned' by the shrimps at the 'prawn spa'.

The facilities at Chagar Hutang is minimal to retain the natural environment and beauty that the volunteers will appreciate.

Apart from wildlife conservation, SEATRU also helps to clear up pollution by turning biodegradable waste to composite. The other waste will be sent to the waste collection centre in Redang Island before being shipped to the mainland.

Only limited use of soap and shampoo are allowed and the use of toilet paper is forbidden.


The volunteer programme imposes a fee for the wonderful experience awaiting those who are keen.

Local students have to pay RM300 while international students US$150, adult locals have to pay RM500 and other foreigners US$250.

As for next year, Juanita noted that SEATRU will open the avenue for the corporate sector to volunteer and bookings will open in June.

Further information on the volunteer programme is available at SEATRU's website at:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mass hatching of Olive Ridley sea turtle eggs begins

Mass hatching of Olive Ridley turtle eggs has begun at this major nesting site under the shroud of environmental degradation caused by oil spill from a ship recently.

The mass hatching, which started on Saturday night, is expected to continue for next two to three days.

Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer Ajay Kumar Jena, who is monitoring the protection of the hatchlings till Monday morning, said eggs in around 30,000 nests on the coast had hatched.

Around 1,55,000 Olive Ridleys nested along the coastline near the Rushikulya Rookery in March and the eggs have started hatching after 45 days. More than 100 eggs were laid into every nest. On an average, however, around 80 hatchlings came out of each nest, Mr. Jena said.

Nearly 24,00,000 hatchlings had entered the sea and lakhs will follow in the coming days.

High mortality

The mortality of the hatchlings is usually quite high. Experts say only one in a 1,000 survives to become an adult. Environmental activists like Soumya Tripathy of Greenpeace feel the oil spill that occurred on April 13 may increase the mortality of the hatchlings this year.

Mr. Jena said though the surface of the sea near the nesting site was monitored, no residue of the oil spill was found. However, marine scientist and Vice-Chancellor of Berhampur University Bijay Kumar Sahu said the oil spill would have had be a serious impact on the marine flora and fauna near the rookery, especially on plankton and small organisms that were the food of the turtle hatchlings.

Mr. Sahu and Mr. Tripathy said there was immediate need for a detailed multi-discipline faculty study on the long-term impact of the oil spill on the marine environment.

Protective measures

As part of measures to protect the hatchlings, the bright lights of the industrial units and townships near the area have been ordered to be shut down during the hatching period. The hatchlings get attracted to light sources. Nylon nets were in place over a distance of three km at the nesting beach to stop hatchlings from straying towards the land.

Volunteers of the Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee — an organisation comprising people from villages near the rookery involved in turtle protection — collected stray hatchlings and released them into the sea. Hundreds of children were also seen saving stray hatchlings and releasing them into sea. Forest officials have put up camps in the area to monitor the process.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Smuggling Of Turtle Eggs Rampant In Southeast Asia Region

Bandar Seri Begawan - The smuggling of turtle eggs continues to be rampant in the region despite stringent laws in most countries, including Brunei, making the sale and consumption of the dying "delicacy" illegal.

"We believe it is coming mainly from the Philippines and Malaysia, specifically from Sabah and Sarawak and through Brunei as well," Malaysia's TRAFFIC officer, Norainie Awang Anak, told the Bulletin.

TRAFFIC is Malaysia's wildlife trade monitoring network responsible for raising awareness of illegal wildlife trading within the region. The non-government organisation is in Brunei to conduct a two-day workshop in collaboration with Brunei's Department of Forestry and the World Wildlife Fund.

"(Turtle eggs) are also smuggled from the Turtle Islands to Sandakan in Sabah before going to Terengganu," she said. Demand for the regional delicacy is apparently quite large in the Malaysian state.

"There is also a third route where smuggling of this species occurs from Kalimantan to Sarawak. They also come from the Natuna region going to either Malaysia, Singapore or Brunei," added the wildlife officer.

According to Norainie, the largest amount seized by Malaysian enforcement authorities was in 2008 with over 10,000 turtle eggs suspected to be smuggled regionally.

Meanwhile, Brunei authorities are not denying the smuggling of turtle eggs into Brunei that are then sold illegally to the public but its occurrence is apparently "very rare".

"We will not deny that turtle eggs are being smuggled into Brunei," said Pg Haji Abdullah, Assistant Superintendent of Customs at the Customs and Excise Department.

He, however, asserted that there have been no cases of locals smuggling turtle eggs out of the country.

"Cases (of smuggling turtle eggs) are quite rare," he told the Bulletin, citing only nine known cases between 2004 and 2009.

He added that while there are cases of turtle eggs being smuggled in for personal consumption, most of the cases involve turtle eggs of which amount goes up in the thousands to be sold illegally in local markets, further revealing that "approximately 20,000 turtle eggs have been seized since 2004".

Most of these cases have already been prosecuted while others are still pending at the Attorney General's Chambers.

Meanwhile, Claire Beastall, Training and Capacity Building Co-ordinator for TRAFFIC, puts her faith in these workshops as an avenue to raise awareness among the people directly involved in the enforcement of these laws.

"Most people in most regions are not aware of how big the problem is," she told the Bulletin. "This is about raising awareness and helping customs officers and other enforcement agencies in the Heart of Borneo area to work together to protect its unique wildlife."

While the decline of the species continues, Beastall believes that "everybody is working towards improving the detection of the smuggling of illegal wildlife".

"It's everybody's job from all the enforcement agencies in all countries to the public itself," she added.

Poaching of marine turtles remains one of the biggest dangers to the species coupled with pollution of the ocean and drastic climate changes that affect the species' ability to reproduce.

In Brunei, marine turtles and their eggs are protected under the Wild Fauna and Flora Act 2007.

In 2009, Brunei's Royal Customs and Excise Department foiled an attempt to smuggle in a total of 4,150 turtle eggs as a result of a tip-off from the public, the largest number of turtle eggs seized by local authorities thus far.-- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sea turtles found dead after oil spill in India

Carcasses of Olive Ridley turtles were sighted floating near the Rushikulya rookery on the Orissa coast after an oil spill from a ship near the Gopalpur port.

Environmental activists suspect this to be the impact of the spill. Some 25 carcasses were reported to be floating between Prayagi and Arjipalli since Thursday. Most were two to three days old.

Around 7,000 litres of oil had spilt from the Essar-owned vessel MV Malabika on Tuesday evening when a barge hit it due to rough weather.

Buried hastily

It is suspected that suffocation or toxicity of spilt oil may have been a catalyst for the deaths.

Environmental activists have alleged that carcasses were being hastily buried by the authorities without any attempt to determine the cause of deaths.

Soumya Tripathy of the Greenpeace, who visited the Rushikulya rookery on Friday, said a toxic impact on mature Olive Ridleys in the sea near this coast and the young hatchlings that are about to come out from the nests on this mass nesting coast cannot be ruled out.

According to him, the spill can cause cutaneous toxic reactions and suffocation for marine turtles, which can cause death.

According to marine scientists, the planktons near the beach have been affected by the spill. This would affect the delicate marine food chain in the area. The first food of tender hatchlings are planktons and small sea animals.

It is feared that due to this pollution of the sea near the nesting site, the mortality among hatchlings may be quite high this year.

Even after four days, the residue of emulsified hydrocarbon was floating and getting carried to the rookery.

The port authorities had to deploy workers again to clean up the beach by collecting and segregating the sand affected.

Rabindra Sahu of the Rushikulya Marine Turtle Protection Committee said the effect of the spill would extend to the Chilka lake, connected to this region by the Palur canal.

Fish stinks of lubricants

He said the fish catch from this stretch now stinks of lubricants and salt producers of the area are worried that their produce too may get affected.

Hunting for dugong, turtles 'cruel'

THE RSPCA says indigenous hunting methods for dugongs and green sea turtles are inhumane and is urging the federal government to stamp out cruelty in hunting methods.

The RSPCA's concerns come as the opposition today will announce that a Coalition government would stop the poaching of dugongs and sea turtles, stamp out brutality in hunting and "end the commercial sale of dugong and turtle meat".

Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt will also commit to reducing the take of dugongs and sea turtles by 90 per cent.

"The traditional owners, along with many individuals and groups, are among the strongest advocates of enforcement against poachers and against the brutality on dugongs and turtles as part of this illegal practice," Mr Hunt said.

Under the Native Title Act 1993, native title holders can legally hunt dugongs and green turtles for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs.

But RSPCA Queensland spokesman Michael Beatty said the RSPCA wanted state laws amended to remove the exemption for traditional hunting to ensure the humane killing of animals.

Mr Beatty said that, when hunted, green sea turtles often had their flippers cut off while they were still alive and were then left on beaches in the sun. He said live dugongs were often tied to wharves and had parts of their flesh cut off intermittently to keep the meat fresh.

"In this day and age with refrigeration and freezing, you don't need to be as cruel as that," Mr Beatty said.

Mr Beatty added he had received reports that dugong and turtle meat was being flown into Cairns airport from the Torres Straight and sold on a black market in town. He said the meat industry was being driven by illegal poaching.

A spokeswoman for the federal Environment Department said 13 offences had been recorded for illegal hunting of dugongs in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area since 2008.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority estimates there are 11,300 dugongs in the reef marine parks. The authority's Dr Mark Read said yesterday estimates suggested that an absolute maximum of 120 dugongs a year could be sustainably hunted throughout the reef.

The authority has several voluntary sustainable hunting agreements with traditional owners in the area - but has concerns that poachers not connected to traditional owners were hunting too many animals.

The park authority has also established an indigenous compliance officer who will work with traditional owners around Cairns to help stamp out poaching.

WWF-Malaysia urges PM to support Federal Laws for turtles in Memorandum

15 April 2010, Selangor – WWF-Malaysia calls for better legal protection through Federal laws for Malaysia’s endangered turtles in a Memorandum to the Prime Minister handed over on 7 April 2010. The memorandum was presented by WWF-Malaysia’s CEO/ Executive Director, Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma to the PM’s Special Officer in Charge of Parliamentary Affairs at Perdana Putra, Putrajaya.

Essentially, the memorandum seeks to draw the Prime Minister’s attention to the plight of this national heritage. Continued trade and consumption of turtle eggs, habitat destruction and degradation, turtle poaching and mortality through accidental by-catch in fishing activities are direly impacting the species.

“The precarious situation facing turtles in Malaysia is compounded by the fact that the State laws governing turtles currently are very weak and ineffective. These laws have failed to provide any meaningful protection,” said Dato’ Dr Sharma.

The ‘Turtle Memorandum’ calls on the Federal Government to now enact comprehensive and holistic Federal laws that govern turtles.

“However, this call, from a legal standpoint poses difficulties as the jurisdiction over turtles belongs to the State according to the Federal Constitution. For the Federal government to enact such comprehensive laws, the Federal Constitution will need to be amended,” according to WWF-Malaysia’s Policy Coordinator, Ms Preetha Sankar.

She added that it is absolutely imperative that if turtles are to have a chance at survival, Federal intervention, mandate, resolve and resources must be expressed and facilitated through such Federal laws.

WWF-Malaysia has through the memorandum called on the Prime Minister to give this issue attention at the cabinet level and initiate various consultations and policy dialogues with relevant Ministries, State Excos, the Attorney General’s Chambers, scientists and NGOs alike.

This memorandum also contains opinions by renowned turtle scientists and legal experts. WWF-Malaysia intends to make this memorandum public very soon.

“We need to bring the battle to save our turtles to Parliament. We hope that our Prime Minister will initiate pivotal changes that will set the course right for these iconic species. It is still not too late,” added Dato’ Dr Sharma.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Turtles killed 'in millions' by fishing gear

Millions of marine turtles have been killed over the past two decades through entrapment in fishing gear, according to a global survey.

Described as the first global synthesis of existing data, the study found especially high rates of "bycatch" in the Mediterranean and eastern Pacific.

Six of the seven sea turtle types are on the Red List of Threatened Species.

Writing in the journal Conservation Letters, researchers advocate much greater use of gear safe for turtles.

These include circular hooks rather than the conventional J-shaped hooks on long fishing lines, and hatches that allow the reptiles to escape from trawls.

Turtles must come to the surface to breathe.

When they are caught in a net or on a fishing hook, they cannot surface, and drown.

Lead researcher Bryan Wallace said the state of the world's turtles was an indicator of the wider health of the oceans.

"Sea turtles are sentinel species of how oceans are functioning," he said.

"The impacts that human activities have on them give us an idea as to how those same activities are affecting the oceans on which billions of people around the world depend for their own well-being."

Dr Wallace works in the global marine division of Conservation International and at Duke University in the US.

Off target

The raw material from the study came from records of bycatch - incidental catches in fishing gear - from different regions of the world.

Over the period 1990-2008, records showed that more than 85,000 turtles were snared.

However, those records covered a tiny proportion of the world's total fishing fleets.

"Because the reports we reviewed typically covered less than 1% of all fleets, with little or no information from small-scale fisheries around the world, we conservatively estimate that the true total is probably not in tens of thousands, but in the millions of turtles taken as bycatch in the past two decades," said Dr Wallace.

Three types of fishing gear are identified in the survey - long-lines, gillnets and trawls.

Modern long-line boats trail strings of hooks that can be 40km long, usually in search of high-value species such as tuna and marlin.

Gillnets are usually stationary, and use mesh of a set size in an attempt to target certain species of fish.

The researchers suggest that several areas of the world account for particularly high levels of bycatch - the Mediterranean Sea and the eastern Pacific Ocean for all types of gear, together with trawling operations off the west coast of Africa.

Catches cut

Modifying fishing gear can have a dramatic impact on the size of bycatch.

Shrimp trawls fitted with turtle excluder devices (TEDs) catch markedly fewer of the reptiles.

A grid prevents anything large from entering the back portion of the net, and a hole above the grid allows accidentally snared animals such as turtles to escape.

A number of countries now require that shrimp boats must use nets fitted with TEDs.

The circular long-line hooks also reduce bycatch of birds such as albatrosses.

However, some fleets have resisted adopting selective gear because fishermen believe it will reduce their catch.

In many parts of the developing world, the gear is not available.

Marine turtles face other significant threats.

Debris in the oceans, such as plastic bags, can also cause drowning, while development in coastal regions can affect nesting and reproduction.

Some turtles are still targeted for meat, and their shells used for tourist souvenirs.

Numbers of adult leatherbacks - the largest species, growing to more than 2m long and capable of journeys that span entire oceans - are thought to have declined by more than 75% between 1982 and 1996.

Commercial Fishing Estimated to Kill Millions of Sea Turtles
ScienceDaily 6 Apr 10;

The number of sea turtles inadvertently snared by commercial fishing gear over the past 20 years may reach into the millions, according to the first peer-reviewed study to compile sea turtle bycatch data from gillnet, trawl and longline fisheries worldwide.

The study, which was published online April 6 in the journal Conservation Letters, analyzed data compiled from peer-reviewed papers, government reports, technical reports, and symposia proceedings published between 1990 and 2008. All data were based on direct onboard observations or interviews with fishermen. The study did not include data from recreational fishing.

Each dot on the map represents a previous study that was included in this analysis. (Credit: Conservation International)

Six of the world's seven species of sea turtles are currently listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

"Direct onboard observations and interviews with fishermen indicate that about 85,000 turtles were caught between 1990 and 2008. But because these reports cover less than one percent of all fleets, with little or no information from small-scale fisheries around the world, we conservatively estimate that the true total is at least two orders of magnitude higher," said Bryan Wallace, lead author of the new paper.

Wallace is the science advisor for the Sea Turtle Flagship Program at Conservation International and an adjunct assistant professor at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment. Most of his co-authors are researchers at Duke's Center for Marine Conservation.

Their global data review revealed that the highest reported bycatch rates for longline fisheries occurred off Mexico's Baja California peninsula, the highest rates for gillnet fishing took place in the North Adriatic region of the Mediterranean and the highest rates for trawls occurred off the coast of Uruguay.

When bycatch rates and amounts of observed fishing activity for all three gear types were combined and ranked across regions, four regions emerged as the overall most urgent conservation priorities: the East Pacific, the Mediterranean, the Southwest Atlantic, and the Northwest Atlantic.

"Although our numbers are estimates, they highlight clearly the importance of guidelines for fishing equipment and practices to help reduce these losses," Wallace said.

Effective measures to reduce turtle bycatch include the use of circle hooks and fish bait in longline fisheries, and Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in trawling. Many of the most effective types of gear modifications, Wallace noted, have been developed by fishermen themselves.

Wallace said the Hawaiian longline fishery and the Australian prawn fishery have significantly reduced bycatch through close working relationships between fishermen and government managers, use of onboard observers, mandatory gear modifications and innovative technologies. TurtleWatch, a real-time database that provides daily updates on water temperatures and other conditions indicating where turtles might be found, has guided fishermen to avoid setting their gear in those areas.

Other approaches, such as the creation of marine protected areas and use of catch shares, also reduce bycatch, preserve marine biodiversity and promote healthy fish stocks in some cases, he said.

"Fisheries bycatch is the most acute threat to worldwide sea turtle populations today. Many animals die or are injured as a result of these interactions," Wallace said. "But our message is that it's not a lost cause. Managers and fishers have tools they can use to reduce bycatch, preserve marine biodiversity and promote healthy fish stocks, so that everyone wins, including turtles."

The study stems from work Wallace began in 2005 as a postdoctoral research associate at the Duke University Marine Lab, where he helped develop the first global bycatch database for longline fisheries. That work was part of a three-year initiative called Project GloBAL (Global By-catch Assessment of Long-lived Species).

Co-authors on the new study -- all of whom were part of the Project GloBAL team -- are Rebecca L. Lewison of San Diego State University; Sara L. McDonald of Duke's Center for Marine Conservation; Richard K. McDonald of the Center for Marine Conservation and the University of Richmond; Connie Y. Kot of the Center for Marine Conservation and the Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment; and Shaleyla Kelez, Rhema K. Bjorkland, Elena M. Finkbeiner, S'rai Heimbrecht and Larry B. Crowder, all of the Center for Marine Conservation. Crowder is director of the center and the Stephen Toth Professor of Marine Biology at the Nicholas School. Lewison formerly was a research associate at the Duke Marine Lab.

For Sydney's sea turtles, survival still hangs in the balance green turtles of Sydney Harbour tell a tale of two cities.

That these endangered reptiles regularly visit to graze on seagrass meadows in the middle of a big city, and some have even made the harbour their home, attests to the improving health of Sydney's main waterway.

This week, the Herald delves into the state of our harbour, and its changing life both above and below the waterline.

The turtles - with the mussels that crowd on to channel markers and the seahorses that wrap themselves around shark nets - are a good sign the estuary is becoming cleaner.

Yet for a 13-year-old sea scout, Julia Spragg, her first encounter with a green turtle was far from a good experience.

With one flipper entangled in fishing line that had cut to the bone, another flipper severed, and deep tackle wounds to its neck, the animal had little chance of survival.

When fellow members of the 1st Sailors Bay Sea Scouts found its mangled body while kayaking in the beautiful reaches of Middle Harbour, they were sad to see how much it had suffered.

''It was not nice,'' said Julia.

This young guardian of the harbour wishes more people, particularly those fishing, could see the devastating results of leaving bottles, bait bags and tackle around.

''If you see rubbish, just pick it up. It's not a big job,'' she said.

Geoff Ross, a wildlife management officer with NSW National Parks, said the entangled turtle might have been a long-time harbour resident, and its recent death was a concern.

''The loss of just one breeding-sized individual can have an impact on the species,'' he said.

Although remedies such as waste-retention traps on stormwater outlets had significantly decreased the amount of debris entering the harbour, individuals could do more, he said.

The pollution we can see in the harbour is just one of the many man-made threats to the estuary. These range from an industrial legacy of dumping toxic metals in its sediments to the future effects of global warming.

An increase in sightings of sea turtles, which prefer warmer climes, could be a sign conservation strategies were having an effect but it could also be linked to climate change, Mr Ross said.

Archaeological material from middens at Balmoral Beach and Cammeray suggests Aborigines might have eaten turtles, although Val Attenbrow, of the Australian Museum, said the evidence was not conclusive, with only some bone fragments found. The East Australian Current, a conveyor belt from the tropics on which the turtles ride, is strengthening, with warmer, saltier water found 350 kilometres further south than 60 years ago.

An influx of tropical fish has made the harbour even more of a wonderland for underwater photographers, bringing rare species such as a pair of ornate ghost pipefish that were recently spotted in Chowder Bay.

While more than 570 kinds of fish have been identified - many more than the 350 types found in the whole of Europe - for fishing guide, Craig McGill, it is not the fish, or the the visiting dolphins and whales, or even the fairy penguins, that epitomise the big improvements he has seen in water quality in the past 20 years.

It is the filter feeders on the marinas, pylons and piers. Middle Harbour has an abundance of oysters, he said.

''And the channel markers in the main harbour have had a growth of mussels we've never seen before.''

A ban on anti-fouling paint containing tributyltin was a large contributor. And improvements in the management of sewage and stormwater have reduced other microscopic pollutants.

Twenty-four of 28 swimming sites in the harbour complied 100 per cent of the time with bacterial guidelines between October 2008 and April 2009.

But February this year was a very different story, as the sea scouts of Sailors Bay well know. When any of them fell into the water, they were quickly ushered out to have a shower.

The heavy rains washed debris and road run-off into the harbour, said scout leader, Adrian Spragg . ''It smelt and it was oily.''

In February, only three swimming sites - Redleaf Pool, Nielsen Park and Watsons Bay - passed safety tests, according to Harbourwatch.

This run-off is why the sediments in Sydney Harbour remain some of the most contaminated in the world.

Stuart Taylor, an expert on the harbour bed, said there are almost 21 million tonnes of contaminated sediments, containing thousands of tonnes of copper, lead and zinc, as well as pesticides and other chemicals.

''This is where the detritus of civilisation ends up. Everyone living in the catchment contributes,'' Dr Taylor said.

When there is low rainfall, the contaminants settle quickly and when the sediments are disturbed, they tend to fall back in much the same area, rather than spread.

About 1.5 centimetres of sediments are deposited each year, but rather than providing a fresh top layer, worms and shrimps burrow into the mud and mix it up, he said.

More than 90 per cent of the harbour contains contaminants in surface sediments that exceed guidelines based on US studies. This could be having adverse ecological effects, said Dr Taylor of Geochemical Assessments, who carried out his studies with Associate Professor Gavin Birch at the University of Sydney's School of Geosciences.

Some hot spots, like Homebush Bay, have undergone remediation, but others, where there is no industrial culprit to pay for a risk assessment and clean-up, and where any evidence of effects on human health is lacking, remain untouched.

One of the first studies on the effects of the sediments has been done by Nathan Knott and Emma Johnston of the University of NSW and Sydney Institute of Marine Science.

Surprisingly, being repeatedly doused in heavily contaminated sediments from Rozelle Bay for 10 days had no effect on a range of creatures, including sea squirts and sponges.

But ''further research is required to assess the potential impacts of long-term exposure,'' the scientists said.

One dead, dozens treated after consuming turtle meat in West Sumatra

A 57-year-old man died and 139 residents of South Pagai Island, in Mentawai, West Sumatra, have been treated for food poisoning after consuming the meat of a leatherback turtle.

Tiolina Saogo, chief of South Pagai public health center, told The Jakarta Post 30 residents had been put under intensive care.

“We had to treat the others at their homes because of insufficient facilities on the island,” Tiolina said.

Residents of Maonai and Mapinang coastal hamlets caught the 40-kilogram turtle two weeks ago and split the meat between the hamlets.

“A few days later, all the residents that ate the meat suffered dizziness, nausea and vomiting. A man named Osael died four days after he had eaten the meat,” Tiolina said.

The health official only became aware of the mass poisoning earlier in the week after a number of residents came to the health center for treatment.

There are frequent deaths from turtle-meat poisoning on the islands off the West Sumatran coast.

Three have died in a village on South Pagai Island and two others on Siberut Island in the past two months.

Local authorities have repeatedly warned residents about their turtle-consuming habit. Aside from pork, turtle meat is the main cuisine at local traditional feasts.

Phuket leatherback sea turtle eggs fail to hatch

MAI KHAO, PHUKET: Hopes that two clutches of eggs could spell a reversal of fortune for Phuket’s endangered leatherback sea turtle population were dashed last month when the eggs failed to hatch.

Mai Khao Sea Turtle Conservation Group member Somporn Anupun said the 130 eggs, laid in mid-January, failed to hatch as expected in March.

The two clutches, thought to have been laid by the same female, were the first in several years at Mai Khao Beach, once famed nationwide for the scores of enormous leatherback turtles that came to nest there. Little remains of that legacy apart from tourist attractions with turtle-themed names.

The eggs appeared to be viable, but after the expected hatching period, a look inside revealed the albumen was watery. This indicated they had never been fertilized, Mr Somporn said.

Kongkiet Kittiratanawong, a researcher at the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC), agreed with this assessment.

The failure of the eggs to hatch had not been caused by volunteers moving them to a safe location on the beach after they were discovered, he said.

The PMBC often incubates and raises hatchlings at its facilities at Cape Panwa, but not the highly pelagic leatherback, which does not do well in captivity, he told the Gazette earlier.

A similar clutch of unfertilized leatherback eggs was found at Mai Khao in 2004, he said.

Despite the disappointment in Phuket, it has been a good year for leatherback nesting along other parts of Thailand’s Andaman coastline.

More eggs were laid this nesting season than over the last five, with clutches reported at Thai Muang Beach and Koh Phrathong in Phang Nga, and Koh Lanta in Krabi.

Only the eggs at Thai Muang were viable however, with a 70% to 80% hatching rate.

Leatherbacks typically lay clutches of around 80 fertilized eggs together with 30 smaller unfertilized eggs. The incubation period is about 65 days.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hundreds of Olive Ridley turtle eggs washed away

Bhubaneswar, April 1 (IANS) Despite various preservation measures, hundreds of rare Olive Ridley turtle eggs were washed away in tidal waves in Rushikulya beach, one of the three mass nesting sites in Orissa.
High tidal waves exposed the nesting sites, leading to a loss of hundreds of eggs in Rushikulya beach in Orissa’s Ganjam district.

“Eggs are getting lost since the mass nesting started. The high tide during full moon and new moon are creating havoc on the turtle nests,” said Rabindra Sahu, secretary of Rushikulya Turtle Surakshya Samiti - a voluntary organisation.

“It is a natural loss. We are trying our best to save the eggs through our staff members and voluntary organisations,” said Ajay Kumar Jena, district forest officer of Berhampur.

However, environmentalists are worried about the huge loss of Olive Ridley turtle eggs.

“A huge number of eggs are getting lost to tidal waves. We can save them by relocating the eggs from the shore till the hatchlings come out,” said an environmentalist.

Rushikulya beach is about 175 km from here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

City pollution harms sea turtles

University of Queensland researchers have discovered that one of the effects of inceased human population is stress being placed on the environment leading to sick turtles.

Staff from the Veterinary Marine Animal Research, Teaching and Investigation (Vet-MARTI) unit within the School of Veterinary Science have been conducting an in-depth investigation to determine the diseases and causes of death in green and loggerhead turtles in Southern Queensland.

Director of Vet-MARTI, Dr Mark Flint, has found that these turtles are dying due to the environment they live in, rather than from the ingestion of foreign items.

“The increases in disease syndromes we are seeing within Moreton Bay are likely to be caused by environmental stressors reducing the quality of the waters in which the turtles live," Dr Flint said.

"This contrasts to open ocean studies that have focused on the ingestion of items such as garbage bags, shredded plastic and ghost nets,” Dr Flint said.

“There is a growing body of evidence that increased populations in major cities such as Brisbane are having an effect on the health of marine turtles.”

Dr Flint said findings conducted by Vet-MARTI had shown that green turtles found stranded within the shallow waters of Moreton Bay were dying due to parasites, gastrointestinal disorders and infectious diseases. This differed from reports of turtle deaths studied in deep waters outside of the Bay.

“The approach we have taken to this investigation has allowed us to make more accurate diagnoses of diseases and causes of death," he said.

"We have established baseline medical data to determine which animals are ‘healthy' and used this to compare with ‘unhealthy' animals to diagnose diseases through working with a variety of veterinary specialists and expert biologists.”

Dr Flint believes they have only just begun and need to continue to discover improved and more accurate ways of identifying diseases in turtles and other marine animals.

“We need to use these findings to help rehabilitation centres attempting to save these animals, work these results into Marine Area Protection management plans and raise public awareness,” Dr Flint said.

This project has been running for three years and is a joint collaboration with Australia Zoo, Sea World, Underwater World and the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management.