Sea turtles are now threatened the world over, and, despite the implementation of conservation policies, populations continue to plummet. The east coast of Peninsular Malaysia is no exception. 20 years ago, this region was a prolific breeding-ground for four species of sea turtle, now only two remain.
There are many factors contributing to this decimation, but they all have a common denominator – human exploitation. Most detrimental human activities have a secondary impact on the turtles, such as entanglement by fishing gear or being deterred from nesting by the bright lights of hotels and resorts. One activity, however, prevents entire generations from ever making it out to sea – egg poaching.
This practice is commonplace along this coastline and its impact has been sorely felt, with the last Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), the largest of all turtles, sighted in 2011. The Olive-Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) population has also been eliminated from the region – the last documented nest being in 1999. Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) numbers have decreased by 80% since 1950 and the Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) is on the brink of local & global extinction.
The key to safeguarding our nesting population of turtles – predominantly Green Turtles – relies on constant and continued presence on the beach, as this is the main deterrent to egg poachers. We regularly patrol the nesting beaches on the island by night, relocating any nests that are laid on other beaches back to the safety of our beach on Turtle Bay or our hatchery in Tanjong Jara Resort.
At our core is our turtle project, but in 2018 we expanded our operations from the shore, right down into the ocean. Having already compiled a list of the island’s terrestrial fauna, we are now embarking upon marine research projects to see how we can better understand how to improve the health of this ecosystem. This will encompass looking at fish, coral and invertebrate abundance and diversity. We are now also working on outplanting coral fragments to propagate & restore the once healthy reef around Lang Tengah Island. Our initiatives on the island are helping fill-in the blanks for both terrestrial and marine species found along this east-coast archipelago – and our preliminary studies have already turned up some interesting results. At the forefront is the community we work with, from organising beach cleanups & educational outreach programmes to raise awareness and inspire change.
Lang Tengah Turtle Watch moves forward in the confidence that the most crucial step towards the ultimate preservation of these majestic creatures is to help ensure that the new generations actually make it out to a thriving ecosystem.