Education

Reef balls, the savior of Sarawak turtles

Sarawak was on the verge of losing its turtles despite the state has started conservation works as early as in 1950s.

Sarawak Forestry Corporation Conservation and Research on Fauna and Marine section chief James Bali says the hatching rate of the turtles has dropped by more than 90 percent.

But, a reef ball, weighs about 1.75 metric tonnes each, has turned things around in 1998 when 2,000 of them were placed around a favorite turtle nesting site -Pulau-Pulau Penyu Sarawak (Taman Negara Talang Satang)- which was also frequently encroached by trawlers.

Only 3 per cent turtle hatching rate in 1951

James, a researcher with 25 years of experience, explains that two main reasons that the hatching rate was low are due to many adult turtles casualties and low production of juvenile turtles.

The encroachment by fishermen into the forbidden sites had caused the death of turtles, either as by-catch products or the species are trapped within the (drifted) net.

“By placing reef balls at those areas, trawling net would be damaged as the ship passed by the sites. As they did not get anything, they stopped going to the place.

“The reef balls have become passive enforcement tool and reduced turtle mortality cases to between 10 and 20 per year as compared to more than 100 in previous years.

“Based on reports from the Fisheries department, the fish stock had also increased by 300 per cent at Sematan district as compared to 20 years ago,” he shares the state’s success in turtles conservation at the live session at Borneo Ocean Talk Facebook page organised by WWF-Malaysia and Universiti Malaysia Sabah on June 17.

5-panel FB Live on Success stories of turtles conservation in Borneo.

From 3 per cent of hatching rate between 1951 and 1975, it goes up to 100 per cent in 1999 until now.

Sarawak gov plays active roles to protect its turtles

The upgrading of the state law- Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998- has also imposed that all turtle eggs to be sold to government agency for conservation purposes.

The success story of Talang Satang National Park has convinced Sarawak government to do more for the species native to the state.

In 2019, the state government has announced an allocation of RM70 million of a three-year project to place another 16,800 reef balls along 1,000 km of coastal areas.

“Based on DNA studies on those turtles, which has a migration route in Lawas, Labuan, Banggi in Sabah, Phillipines and Indonesia, they are different from others.

“That is why we cannot afford to have those turtles going into extinction or there would not be any turtles coming to Sarawak.”

Sarawak government is also in the final phase of gazetting a national park in Lawas as it has been studied as a feeding ground for turtles.

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