Turtle power on wane as trawlers take toll

Leatherback sea turtles, known in Thai as ‘Tao Mafueng’, are close to extinction in the Thai sea. Photo courtesy of Baramee Temboonkiet/Greenepeace (Thailand)

The “Tao Mafueng” or leatherback sea turtle, the largest of all living turtles, is on the verge of extinction from the Thai sea, according the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.

Thanya Nethithammakul, the department chief, said yesterday the species had not been seen for some time, having not come to lay eggs as usual. Leatherback sea turtles swim seasonally to lay eggs at two sites. The first is Thai Muang Beach in Khao Lampi-Hat Thai Muang National Park in Phang Nga and the second is a stretch of beach in Sirinat National Park in Phuket.

Monitoring between 2003-2013 at Thai Muang Beach found turtles laid 2,678 eggs there and 1,574, or 58.7% survived.

At Sirinat National Park, 166 eggs were laid between 1999-2013 but the survival rate was slim given the intensive property development along the beach, and since 2013 no further eggs have been observed there.

“This is unusual. The disappearance of Tao Mafueng serves as an alarm call. Do not forget that Thailand was once a sanctuary for leatherback turtles,” said Mr Tanya, adding that irresponsible fishing, including the use of trawlers, is one of the factors to blame.

Property development on the beach had played a role in scaring the turtles away. Another factor is the traditional belief that consuming turtle eggs will boost one’s health, especially sexual virility. There have been reports of villagers selling leatherback eggs for up to 150 baht each, according to information from the department.

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