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Malaysian state to track leatherback turtles by satellite

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 13 July 2006: A Malaysian state is to conduct a million-dollar satellite study of turtle migration, focusing on the leatherback which is close to extinction, a report said. The coastal state of Terengganu, famed for exotic islands and beaches, has allocated five million Ringgit (1.35 million dollars) for the exercise, the Star newspaper said.

Mohamad Jidin Shafee, Terengganu State Executive Councillor, said the study would cover several turtle species, particularly leatherback sea turtles that are on the verge of extinction. “The exercise is expected to be held this September,” he told the Star. Terengganu conducted a similar study last year, attaching transmitters on four turtles to study their movements after laying eggs. The study showed that the turtles migrated to Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia after laying eggs in Terengganu, Mohamad

In the new study, officials will install transmitters on turtles at the same place chosen last year, Kemaman, to see where the turtles go this year, Mohamad added.

Conservationists have warned of a dramatic decline in turtle landings in Terengganu, from some 10,000 recorded every year in the 1960s. Last year only one leatherback turtle — the most endangered of Malaysia’s turtles — was sighted. And for the first time in history, neither of the other important species — Olive Ridley and hawksbill turtles — landed at the traditional nesting sites.

The alarming development raised fears that the turtles may be lost forever from the beaches, which are a big draw for tourists who come to watch the egg laying as well as the emergence of hatchlings. Turtles are hunted for their meat and shell, and are also killed by getting entangled in fishing nets in the open seas. The tourism industry boom has contributed to the decline, with hotels and bright lights near the beachfront caused turtles to shy away.