Carnage exposed: An environmentalist looking at turtle shells on an island in Terengganu. In the background are discarded fishing nets in which the turtles became entangled and died. — NORAFIFI EHSAN/The Star
Malaysia: Swampy Terengganu island doubles as Turtle graveyard
14th May 2016;
In the middle of a river mouth leading towards the sea, just a five-minute boat ride from the sleepy jetty of a fishing village here, lies the Turtle graveyard – an island where local fishermen dumped dead Turtles for years.
On their way back from sea, the fishermen would stop and throw the carcasses on the island, usually far from the bank to hide them from view.
No bigger than a football field and overgrown with mangroves, the swampy island is half-submerged during high tide in the monsoon season despite the steep bank.
This year’s dry spell, however, has made it possible to wade into the swamp and clamber onto the island.
A 45-minute search turned up 55 pieces of old Turtle bones, including rib bones that form the carapace and plastrons (belly plates).
The Star was recently taken to the island by Lang Tengah Turtle Watch co-founder Raphe van Zevenbergen.
The organisation was tipped off about the so-called “Turtle grave” by a local fisherman, shortly after its founder Hayati Mokhtar began investigating the recent spike in turtle deaths.
“There is no way these Turtles could have come here and died naturally. This is a freshwater river and the banks are very steep so the Turtles couldn’t have climbed up,” said van Zevenbergen, who found the bones along the edge of the swamp.
Looking through the bones, which he later hid deeper in the swamp, he estimated them to be over a year old.
“The bones we have found are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Given that most were almost entirely consumed by the mangrove swamp, many more would have sunk to the muddy depths.”
The fisherman who took us there by boat revealed that the island had been used as a dumping ground for Turtle carcasses as far back as the 1980s.
“Two years ago when I was here, I saw fresh carcasses but the Monkeys and other wildlife could have eaten these.
"Last year, they stopped dumping the carcasses here. I don’t know where they dump them now,” said the man, who declined to be identified.
The fishermen were dumping the carcasses secretly as they did not want to get into trouble for using the illegal nets that incidentally trapped and killed the Turtles.
WWF-Malaysia senior marine conservation officer Sharifah Ruqaiyah Syed Mustafa said the island had been used as a dumping ground for dead Turtles until quite recently, adding that she had gone there in June last year.
“The fishermen who took us there told us that they had seen some ‘very young Turtles’. I saw the carcass of a young Turtle there,” she added.
Source: The Star