Commercial harvesting of sea turtle eggs on Redang Island, Malaysia has provided the islanders with a ready source of income for decades. The local government considers this a right of the inhabitants, and issues annual licenses for turtle egg collection, consumption and sale. This has led to a decline of turtle nesting populations in Redang, to the extent that the turtles now face extinction.
Dr. Chan Eng Heng and Mr. Liew Hock Chark, a husband and wife team from the Sea Turtle Research Unit (SEATRU) of University College, Terengganu, have made many appeals over the last few years to the local government to stop issuing licenses for turtle egg collection. Realizing that the appeals were not having an effect, they raised funds from the public to help buy the eggs from the licensed egg collectors for incubation at Chagar Hutan Beach, the main nesting beach in Redang. The eggs are left to incubate in their natural nests and hatchlings are allowed to make their way to the sea to replenish the declining population.
Over the last seven years, they have stopped some 250,000 turtle eggs from being sold for human consumption. Thanks to their efforts, 200,000 hatchlings have been released to the ocean from a beach on which hatchlings had never previously been produced. They have adhered to the in-situ incubation concept whereby the eggs are left in their natural nests to develop and are not dug up and relocated to hatcheries. This practice ensures a mixed sex ratio, as well as optimal hatch rates.
Dr. Chan and Mr. Liew have also advanced the cause of conservation through research. Their satellite tracking studies have provided the impetus for the development of regional collaborative turtle conservation programmes in South East Asia. Long-term tagging studies of green and hawksbill turtles are generating information on the population dynamics of the turtles, which is vital for assessing and formulating conservation measures.
They have also developed a concept called STOP (Sea Turtle Outreach Programme) to enable the public to become involved in sea turtle conservation through a volunteer programme of nest and turtle adoption schemes. They have succeeded in getting a local English daily to run monthly features on their programme in order to reach a wider audience and create greater awareness among the public on the urgent need to save turtles.
They have developed a web site to reach a wider global audience and to give greater transparency to their programme. STOP serves as a model to the WWF/Fisheries/BP Amoco turtle conservation project in Ma'Daerah - a turtle nesting area in mainland Terengganu.