In Malaysia, various state and national laws protect marine sea turtles; and four species have been identified for conservation purposes. However, the once abundant leatherback turtle is now functionally extinct. The olive ridley is down to just tens of nests per year. The hawksbill hangs on precariously. Only green turtle numbers remain stable, with several hundred turtles nesting regularly at a few rookeries and some 5,000 nests annually off Sandakan, in Sabah (Borneo).
While green turtles are abundant, they face exceptional challenges and the greatest of these is accidental capture in commercial and artisanal fisheries. Sea turtles share habitats with certain shrimp and fish species and are put at risk by shrimp trawling. As the nets roll along the seabed they indiscriminately catch and drown numerous sea turtles – estimated at some 3,000 to 4,000 each year in Sabah alone.
The GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP), implemented by UNDP, supported the Marine Research Foundation (MRF) to develop and implement a long-term national by catch reduction programme in partnership with the Department of Fisheries of Malaysia (DOFM). The programme had an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries to improve the conservation status of sea turtles and their habitats in Malaysia. This was achieved through the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), which are oval metal grids affixed in the narrow portion of the net, allowing fish and shrimp to pass through to the cod end while ejecting large objects, such as turtles, through a net webbing ‘trapdoor’.
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