KOTA KINABALU: The release of turtle hatchlings can be a very unique tourist attraction for Kudat, said Minister of Special Tasks Datuk Teo Chee Kang.
He said the villagers must realize that protection and conservation of turtles could bring them great economic benefits.
Teo, who is also Tanjong Kapor assemblyman, thanked and congratulated the Kudat Turtle Conservation Society (KTCS), WWF Kudat and all volunteers for their good effort in conserving the endangered turtles in Kudat.
“I understand that over the years, they have managed to hatch and release more than 4,500 baby turtles to the seas.
“The release of 100 turtle hatchlings at Kampung Bavang Jamal on July 1 which attracted about 200 local and foreign visitors is another success story.
“If we have the frequency of turtle landings to lay eggs, thus more releases of hatchlings in the future, this can be a very unique tourist attraction for Kudat,” he said.
Teo said the villagers must realise that protection and conservation of this endangered species can bring great economic benefits to the people.
Therefore, he urged the villagers who are living at the seaside to report to KTCS or WWF once they found turtle eggs to ensure that they are hatched and released to the sea.
Meanwhile, KTCS junior project coordinator Norfazilah Rahman said the release of turtle hatchlings had been an exciting moment for the locals and foreign tourists who witnessed the event for the first time.
“About 200 people showed up for the event, including tourists from China, Australia, Germany and Netherlands. Most of them bring their families and children along.”
The society also took the opportunity to educate the participants on turtle conservation through awareness talk and videos before the baby turtles were released.
Norfazilah said illegal poaching of sea turtle eggs remained a serious issue.
“The turtle hatchlings we released back in June were actually rescued from Pulau Malawali and translocated to our hatchery.”
She added that the society used to get around 4,000 turtle eggs in 2012 but the number of sea turtles nesting in the area has reduced in recent years due to human activities.
Hence, Norfazilah said KTCS is working on engaging the local communities to protect and conserve turtles, as well as to educate them on alternative livelihood.
The long-term objective of KTCS is to establish 50 community managed turtle conservation areas within Tun Mustapha Park, and to promote turtle conservation based tourism within this area.
On the other hand, WWF team leader in Kudat, Joannie Jomitol said the release of baby turtles will add value to the Kudat’s tourism in view of the growing number of tourists and lodge operators in the area.
“The spectators were very excited to witness the release of turtle hatchlings.
“I guess there is not many of such events in the northern part or west coast of Sabah, unlike in the east coast where people can see a lot of turtle hatchlings being released.”
Joannie said the Green Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles are the two types of turtles normally nesting in Kudat area.
“The nesting season occurs between April and October, while the eggs take about two months to hatch,” she said.
On another note, Joannie said WWF works with the Sabah Wildlife Department to conduct capacity building trainings for honorary wildlife wardens appointed by the department. The wardens are tasked with protecting and conserving protected species, including sea turtles.
She stressed that turtles are totally protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, which means that it is illegal to hunt turtles for food or consume turtle eggs.
“To date, there are 112 trained honorary wildlife wardens comprising local communities at the Tun Mustapha Park.”
Furthermore, Joannie said the Sabah Wildlife Department had also released a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on turtle conservation early this year following discussions between the department, WWF and other relevant agencies.
She said the WWF also supports the community in Pulau Tigabu and Pulau Tiga in setting up hatcheries and trains them to protect adult turtles.
“In terms of awareness, we are seeing that the local community is starting to take charge of caring for the turtles.
“Ultimately, we in WWF would like to see communities to be the environment steward and be part of resource management in Tun Mustapha Park.
“KTCS is one of the examples,” she said.