Malaysian Sea turtles
Of the seven species of sea turtles present in the world’s oceans, four nest in Malaysia. All four are listed in the IUCN red data book as endangered.
1. The leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
Local name : Penyu belimbing
Shell Length : 150 – 180 cm.
Weight : 300 – 600 kg.
Colour : Black with white or grey patches.
Food : Predominantly jellyfish
Range : Oceanic. Nest in the tropics but moves to temperate waters to feed.
The leatherback turtle is the most unusual and distinctive of all sea turtles. It is so unique that it is placed in its own family, Dermochelydae. It is the only turtle without a hard bony shell. It has instead, a smooth leathery shell which is marked by seven longitudinal ridges. The shell consists of an outer skin with a continuous layer of tiny mosaic bones embedded in a thick layer of oily cartilaginous material. There is so much oil in the carapace that taxidermists take weeks to degrease it. This turtle is also the largest of all sea turtles, being capable of reaching 2 meters in total length and weighing over half a ton. A dead male specimen washed ashore in Wales, U.K., in 1988 weighted 916 kg (2,016 lbs), and measured 291 cm from nose to tail. Average nesting females usually have a shell length of one and a half meters and weigh approximately 300 kg.
2. The green turtle (Chelonia mydas)
Local name : Penyu agar, Penyu pulau
Shell length : 90 – 110 cm.
Weight : 110 – 180 kg.
Colour : Olive-brown to green or black.
Food : Predominantly seagrass and seaweeds
Range : Coasts and islands in the tropics.
Locally known in Malaysia as ‘Penyu Agar’ or ‘Penyu Hijau’, the green turtle, Chelonia mydas, is one of the most conspicuous species found circum-globally; with most of their nesting and feeding ground lies in the tropical waters. This species is the largest hard-shelled sea turtles and their common name, ‘Green turtle’ derives from the green fat underneath their shell.
3. The hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
Local name : Penyu sisik, Penyu karah
Shell length : 70 – 90 cm.
Weight : 40 – 90 kg.
Colour : Combination of dark brown, yellow and brown.
Food : Predominantly sponges
Range : Tropical oceans near coral reefs.
Locally known in Malaysia as ‘Penyu Karah’ or ‘Penyu Sisik’. Their common name, hawksbill is derived from the narrow head and tapering ‘beak’.
4. The olive-ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea)
Local name : Penyu lipas
Shell length : 50 – 70 cm.
Weight : 30 – 60 kg.
Colour : Olive brown.
Food : Crustaceans, molluscs, jellyfish, fish and seagrass
Range : Coastal tropics.
Known locally as Penyu Lipas, is one of the smallest species of sea turtle. It gets its name from the olive-green colour of its heart-shaped shell.These lightly-built turtles have a high-domed shell.
Female green turtle returning to the sea after laying her eggs at Chagar Hutang beach, Redang Island. Each female can lays up to 10 nests in a breeding season
Male green turtle resting at coral reefs area at Redang Island
Sea turtle eggs are still sold at markets in Peninsular Malaysia as there is no legislation to ban the commercial sale of these eggs. Currently, only the leatherback turtle eggs are protected but it was too late to save the population in Malaysia. The last nesting recorded for the leatherback turtles were in 2010 and no landing observed ever since. Sadly, the leatherback population at Rantau Abang is now extinct.
Once matured, both male and female green turtles will migrate from foraging grounds to their natal beach which may encompass hundreds to thousand kilometers away. Mating will occur at areas nearby the nesting beaches. Female will mate with multiple males to sire all her eggs for that breeding season.
After egg laying, green turtle will camouflaged her nest from predator such as monitor lizard.
Photo credit: Aziz Mustaffa
Attachment of satellite telemetry on sea turtles enable researchers to track the turtle’s migration back to their foraging grounds. Photo credit: Liew Hock Chark.
Aerial view of Chagar Hutang Turtle Sanctuary, Redang Island, Terengganu. The beach is one of the most important nesting ground for green turtles in Peninsular Malaysia, with annual nesting range from 700 to 1000 nests. Sea turtle conservation was initiated by SEATRU of Universiti Malaysia Terengganu since 1993.
Long-term sea turtle monitoring, tagging and in-situ egg incubation at Chagar Hutang, Redang Island, Terengganu by SEATRU, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu. Currently, a total of 10,380 nests (1993-2015) had been protected and from these more than 600,000 healthy hatchlings were returned back to the sea to replenish future stocks.
All nests at Chagar Hutang beach, Redang Island are left incubated in-situ. Once hatched, the hatchlings will emerged naturally before entering the sea. Imprinting of hatchlings on the beach are important so that they can return again to the same beach after 20-50 years from now. In-situ incubation is also important for producing a balance sex ratio and high hatching success.
Number of sea turtle nests protected by Universiti Malaysia Terengganu at Chagar Hutang beach, Redang Island from 1993-2015. By 2010, nesting was observed to increase in Redang Island, indicating a positive results from the long-term sea turtle conservation project.
Once out of the nest, hatchlings face many predators including ghost crabs, birds, monitor lizards, fishes and many others.
Sea turtles do not have an X or Y chromosome like humans do. Instead, their sex is determined by the incubation temperature. Higher incubation temperature will produce females, and cooler incubation temperature produce males.
It’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to sexual maturity (adulthood). Photo credit: SEATRU Volunteer
Turtle Camps organised by SEATRU, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu and Laguna Redang Island Resort for the children of Redang Island.
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught” Baba Dieum
Together we can save sea turtles from extinction. Do NOT eat sea turtle eggs.
Photo credit: SEATRU Volunteer