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Malaysian Official: Leatherback Turtle Population Down, But Not Extinct; 'We Have Found Five Nesting Places'

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KUALA TERENGGANU, Malaysia -- There has been a drastic decline in the leatherback population but turtles are not extinct in Malaysia, the Turtle and Marine Eco-system Centre (Tumec) here has assured.

Tumec head Kamaruddin Ibrahim said Wednesday that leatherbacks could still be seen landing and nesting on the shores of Terengganu.

"It is correct when one says the population of the leatherback has declined drastically, but the turtle has not become extinct here," he told Bernama, refuting a United Nations Environment Programme report from Bangkok that the endangered leatherback is effectively extinct in Malaysia.

Kamaruddin said in 2003, fourteen nesting places of the leatherbacks were discovered with 1,083 eggs. In 2004, five nesting places with 295 eggs were found and last year, one nesting place with 90 eggs.

"This year, we have found five nesting places with 336 eggs of two leatherback turtles."

Kamaruddin said the discovery of the nesting places was evident that the leatherbacks were not extinct in the country.

He also said that Tumec had released almost 500,000 leatherback hatchlings into the sea since 1961, and that many of these were most likely to return to nest on the shores of Terengganu.

Tumec is also taking steps to protect and conserve leatherbacks by conducting patrols along the coast and sea, including ensuring that they are not trapped in the nets of fishermen.

"The patrols have resulted in the seizure of 17 nets of fishermen, including three in Rantau Abang and Kampung Jambu Bongkok, near Marang, yesterday," Kamaruddin revealed.

He said the state government had indicated its commitment to ensure the perpetuation of the leatherback with a RM200,000 allocation to Tumec this year for conservation of the turtle in Terengganu.

"Tumec will also support any endeavour at the international level to save the leatherbacks in Malaysia," he added.

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