Sea Turtle Conservation in Perhentian by Wan Ahmad Azimi bin Wan Azmin – president of Help Our Penyu.
A sandy beach getaway is probably what people think of when they hear the name Perhentian Island. Dig a little deeper though, and some may say turtles. The Malay island of Perhentian is one of the islands in Malaysia where one can spot turtles either on the beach laying eggs or swimming in the sea. Turtles have been visiting Perhentian Island far longer than humans though, and are now struggling thanks to our arrival.
Sea turtles in Terengganu are struggling, with 2010 nesting numbers of the Hawksbill, Leatherback and Olive Ridley turtles being only a handful. It is only the Green turtles which have a chance of survival, with more than 2000 nests. With only 1 in 10,000 turtle hatchlings surviving to adulthood, and with each nest having about 100 eggs, the three aforementioned species of turtle are virtually extinct in Terengganu.
Perhentian is a popular stop on the backpacker route, and is also a domestic tourist haven, where visitors can enjoy snorkelling and diving, seeing the turtles swim gracefully underwater. Unfortunately not all of these tourists are informed of the ethics involved when swimming with turtles, and many opt to touch and even chase the turtles. Snorkel tour operators have even been known to try and catch turtles in order to enable tourists to pose with the turtles, which are bought above the water.
Night time turtle watching is a common, and enjoyable activity for many tourists, who go to the beaches to watch them lay their eggs. However, the female turtles are easily scared by people getting too close or gathering in large crowds. In one instance, the flash from a tourists camera scared a laying turtle to the extent that she scrambled back down the beach whilst still laying her eggs whilst a turtle may be focussed on laying her eggs, they can still be easily scared. Furthermore, locals have been known to poach turtle eggs, which can be sold in order to earn extra cash.
March 2010 saw the death of a turtle after it was struck by a boat propeller. The clash left it with a deep cut in its shell, which became infected. This infection led to its death a month later. This tragedy could have been avoided, had the boat been installed with a propeller guard, as is a standard safety feature on Australian boats.
However, there is hope for the turtles in the Perhentian Islands. Help Our Penyu (HOPE), is a registered Malaysian society (reg. No. 2103-10-WKL) who support the Department of Fisheries Terengganu, work with the Association of Perhentian Islands Operators Terengganu and the Perhentian villagers themselves. HOPE are unifying sea turtle conservation in the islands, and are funded by voluntourists. The volunteers take part in a range of activities such as manning a portable information and interactive activity booth which disperses educational information on sea turtles to tourists, running an after-school club in the primary school in Perhenthian called ‘Turtles Need Trees (TNT)’, initiating a village community group and protecting turtle nesting beaches from poachers.
HOPE also run awareness campaigns on the mainland, including beach walks called Walk for Turtles where staff and volunteers walked over 200km of Terengganu’s beaches. 2011’s walk will be extended to 300km on 10 islands and will include beach cleaning in eight sites, visit six turtle projects and will include the general public.
Fancy getting involved?
Click to see our guide to the Perhentian Islands.
Click for details of the HOPE turtle conservation holidays in the Perhentian Islands