25 November 2008

Coastal reclamation threatens sea turtles in Malacca

The premier turtle nesting sites in Malacca are threatened by reclamation and inshore tin-mining. The impact of these activities will be irreversible, affecting the migration route and nesting habitats of the turtles.
Although the beaches are narrow and water murky, Malacca's coasts are important nesting sites for the hawksbill turtle. These beaches have been the nesting haven of this endangered species and it is the largest known population in Peninsular Malaysia.

Coastal reclamation of about 1,908ha stretching from Kuala Linggi in the district of Alor Gajah to Serkam, Jasin, in the south is being planned. WWF-Malaysia (WWF-M) questioned the soundness and relevance of the Macro EIA which was produced nearly 10 years ago.

Disturbed home
Hilary Chiew, The Star 25 Nov 08;

Nesting sites of hawksbill turtles in Malacca are under threat by coastal reclamation work.

THE narrow strips of beach and the murky water of the Malacca coast are hardly enticing for beach-goers. But for the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), these less-than-attractive stretches of sandy and rocky seafront are where they lay their eggs.

For time immemorial, the disconnected beaches from Padang Kemunting to Kuala Linggi, near the border with Negri Sembilan, has been the nesting haven of this endangered species and it is the largest known population in Peninsular Malaysia and second most important in the country after the cluster of islands called Turtle Islands in Sabah.

The Malacca turtle population averages 200 to 300 nests a year while in Sabah the number is 500 to 600 nests. DNA research has shown that they are genetically a different stock from the Sabah and Terengganu populations.

Just like the other three species of marine turtle that nest in Malaysia, the hawksbill is threatened by poaching of its eggs, loss of nesting beaches and incidental capture in fishing nets. On top of all that, the beautiful markings on the hawksbill’s carapace makes them a target for commerce. .

In Malacca, the premier nesting site is under imminent threat from reclamation and inshore tin-mining. These activities are expected to have an irreversible impact on the migration route and nesting habitats of the turtles.

Deputy state secretary Datuk Zainal Hussin said the total size of coastal reclamation is about 1,908ha stretching from Kuala Linggi in the district of Alor Gajah to Serkam, Jasin, in the south. He said in an e-mail reply that the development is based on the Macro Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Coastal Land Reclamation Project in Malacca that was approved by the Department of Environment in 1999.

World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia (WWF-M) questioned the soundness and relevance of the Macro EIA which was produced nearly 10 years ago.

“Since then, the coastline has undergone massive changes. Each reclamation project proposed in the state should be subjected to a Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) and the Macro EIA can serve as a guide to the DEIAs.

“DEIAs will provide for detailed assessment of physical changes (via hydraulic studies) to the nesting beaches, such as accretion and erosion and increase in turbidity, which will impact the turtles and their habitat.

“If the ongoing reclamation projects do indeed erode these nesting beaches, who will be responsible for the high costs of mitigating measures? Will the party responsible allocate sufficient budget for this purpose?” asked WWF-M executive director Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma.

WWF-M is concerned that lights during dredging operation at the tin-mining site of Kuala Sg Baru will severely disorient hatchlings and render them more vulnerable to prey.

Sharma said the mining operation should not coincide with the annual nesting season of the hawksbills from March to September as the near-shore waters adjacent to nesting beaches are highly utilised by the turtles during the inter-nesting period.

While local fishermen are worried about the loss of fishing grounds, they are less concerned about the turtles. Some believe that the marine reptile will “simply move to another beach”, as they were told by certain quarters about the leatherback turtles of Rantau Abang in Terengganu.

Sharma said it is an unfounded belief that displaced turtles can easily relocate themselves and adapt to reclaimed beaches or other beaches, more so in Malacca where suitable nesting beaches are limited due to the highly developed coast.

Adverse impact such as suitability of sand for nesting, compacted sand and scarp formation at reclaimed areas will interfere with the nesting process.

Besides the coastal nesting belt, hawksbill turtles are also nesting on Pulau Upeh, 1.5km off the shore of Klebang. The small island accounts for 25% of the state’s total nesting.

Since 2006, a collaborative conservation programme between the Fisheries Department and WWF-M has intensified the ex-situ and in-situ turtle protection efforts in the state.

At the 500m-long Padang Kemunting-Pengkalan Balak beach, one of the key nesting sites along the Malacca coast, the department operates a small hatchery where eggs delivered by licensed egg-collectors are incubated. Eggs deposited on Pulau Upeh, however, are left in their natural state, hence requiring patrolling to prevent poaching.

WWF-M programme leader Lau Min Min said two teams of patrol personnel monitor the beaches and Pulau Upeh between 8.30pm and 5am during the peak season of April to August. Patrol on the coastal beach also helps to deter harassment of nesting turtles on those highly accessible beaches. For example, Padang Kemunting and Pengkalan Balak are dotted with holiday chalets and eateries that are a source of light, noise and garbage pollution.

Then there is the uncertainty of the future of conservation work on Pulau Upeh once Tenaga Nasional Berhad succeeds in selling it off.

“TNB has been very selective in identifying the potential purchaser to ensure the intended purpose to own the island will not deviate from its original purpose as resorts,” assured a TNB spokesperson.

The utility company has supported the conservation programme by allowing access to the island but decided to sell the island after its initial plan to utilise it as a staff training centre fell through. Earlier, the state had expressed interest to preserve Pulau Upeh as a wildlife sanctuary.

Zainal dismissed the concern of adverse impact on the species, saying that there is already the hawksbill conservation centre at Pengkalan Balak.

Sharma pointed out that the Malacca Fisheries (Turtle and Turtle Eggs) Rules 1989 expressly provides for the establishment of turtle sanctuaries. The protection of turtle habitats is absolutely crucial, but no nesting beaches in Malacca have been gazetted as sanctuaries.

Legal protection of these beaches are justified and necessary, especially in view of the fact that the National Physical Plan classifies marine turtle nesting beaches as being Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) Rank 1, which means that development and agricultural activities are not allowed on those beaches, he added.

He urged the state government to reassess current and planned projects, taking into consideration the needs of hawksbill turtles and marine resources in the state.

“We also call on the government to hasten the adoption of the National Integrated Coastal Zone Management plan which will act as a guide to states on coastal zone development,” said Sharma.

1 comment:

  1. Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAa) that are then used for mining? Does Malaysia suffer the common developing-world pehnomenon of making laws, then completely disregarding them?

    ReplyDelete

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