International Marine Conservation Congress 2018, IMCC5


Tanya and Mariana are just back from the 5th annual International Marine Conservation Congress in Kuching, Sarawak where they were presenting our work on monitoring and conserving sea turtle in the Johor Marine Park.

Organised by the Society for Conservation Biology, hundreds of scientists and conservationists from all over the world came together to present their work on a variety of marine conservation projects under the theme “MAKING SCIENCE MATTER”.

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dr.juanita joseph - universiti malaysia sabah

plenary talk on sea turtles in malaysia - the sad demise of the leatherback. do green and hawksbill turtles face the same fate?

To start off the conference, we attended the plenary speech by Dr. Juanita Joseph from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS). Dr. Juanita discussed the state of the sea turtle population in Malaysia where poaching, habitat destruction ad exploitablation are having huge imacts. She talked about the loss of the Leatherback population, once huge at over 10,000 nestings in the 1950s and now locally extinct, and how we could be looking at the same fate for the green and hawksbill species. After laying bare the harsh facts, she talked about the importance of legislation to combat these challenges and prevent Malaysia’s surving turtle populations from seeing the same fate. A very poignant start to the conference for us…



Where are we, and how do we move forward?

As part of the conference, we took part in a symposium focussed entirely on sea turtle in Southeast Asia where we heard from other scientists working in Malaysia and the Philippines on various conservation projects. Here we able to present our own findings and hear about conservation projects and research from Gavin Jolis (WWF), Dr. Jarina Mohd Jani (UMT), Noor Azariyah Mohtar (WWF), Sue Audrey Ong (LAMAVE), K.L. Chew (Lang Tengah Turtle Watch), and Dr. Nicholas Pilcher from the Marine Research Foundation.

Firstly, we heard from Gavin Jolis from WWF-Malaysia who talked us through the illegal turtle trade in Sabah. Here they have found huge turtle graveyards full of skeletons where the animals were slaughtered to meet the demand for meat and shell in other countries. Hi team also discovered that over 200,000 eggs had been poached and shipped to the Philippines in well planned and coordinated operations.


Next we heard from Dr. Jarina Mohd Jani from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT), who presented on the turtle egg trade in Malaysia which is still commonplace. Poaching is now on the rise with increased egg prices in the markets, depsite many of the widespread turtle conservation efforts going on across the country and despite the tragic loss of Malaysia’s Leatherback turtle population. Dr. Jarina advocates for a more community-based and collaborative approach where more enphasis is placed on understanding the human interactions with the turtles in order to understand their place as part of Malaysian culture.

From Noor Azariyah Mohtar (Naja), also from WWF-Malaysia we heard about her work on the geomorphology of turtle nesting beaches and their vulnerability to climate change and anthropormorphic activites like coastal developments. Naja suggests implementing erosion control buffers as well as maintaining coastal habitats, to protect these beaches and reduce the need for turtles to travel further and further in order to nest.

Sue Audrey Ong from LAMAVE (Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute) presented her work on Apo Island in the Philippines which is a tourist destination and hotspot for turtle snorkelling activities, with over 71,000 visitors in 2015. Her project aims to understand the size and distrbution of the turtle population, their habitat use and the impact of tourism.

K.L. Chew then shared her work using photo identifcation as part of a collaborative project between Lang Tengah Turtle Watch and Perhentian Turtle Project. Through this collaboration, they have discovered turtles foraging and nesting across their project sites along the East coast of Malaysia, highlighting the value of data sharing across projects with this non-invasive method for identifyig turtles.

Finally we heard from Dr. Nicholas Pilcher, founder of Marine Research Foundation (MRF), who gave us an overview of his work into the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on Malaysian fishing vessels. A large number of turtles die due to by-catch every year and the inclusion of TEDs on vessels allows turtles to escape the nets, reducing mortality as well as reducing costs to the fishermen. Through lon-term engagement with fishing communities and the Department of Fisheries, Dr. Pilcher is sure that the gradual implementation of TEDs on all fishing vessels will vastly reduce by-catch rates in the future.

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Presenting our findings


Here, we presented the work of the team over the past three years and highlighted some of the current challenges facing sea turtle populations in Johor. Lack of enforcement in our area means that eggs are still poached and sold to the markets for consumption by both licenced and unlicenced egg collectors. On top of this, we continue to find large numbers of dead turtles due to boat strikes and plastic consumption, leading to serious concerns for the stability of the turtle population in Johor. We proposed to implement more regular patrolling efforts, an outreach/awareness program in the local community and more engagment with the local authorities in order to bolster protection of turtes within the Marine Park. In doing so, we plan to better understand the population and improve the legislation and enforcement to protect sea turtles in the area.


question and answer session with the presenters

After the symposium, we joined the SCB Turtle Working Group Malaysia for our first ever meeting to discuss some of the challenges currently faced by our teams on the ground. One of the key issues raised was the lack of data and data sharing across regions in Malaysia, in particular with regards to turtle mortalities, highlighing the need for more collaborative and sharing efforts. As everyone dicussed their concerns and observations it became clear that collaborative efforts are certainly needed to enforce further protections for sea turtles in Malaysia and to influence change. With all of the challenges faced in sea turtle conservation, it gave us hope to share some of the issues we face with like-minded scientists working around the country. The Working Group meeting was a great start. We hope it will be the first of many.