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

Cruel fate: The carcass of a young Turtle found by Sharifah Ruqaiyah on an island in Terengganu where fishermen used to dump the dead animals.
Photo: WWF-Malaysia

Malaysia: Turtle deaths rising due to Stingray demand
By Sim Leoi Leoi, 14th May 2016;

Terengganu’s iconic mascot, the Turtle, is dying. The irony – it is not being killed or hunted but has become the victim of the hunger for another marine creature, the Stingray (F. Dasyatidae).

Metres of illegal nets (pukat pari), laid out to catch Stingrays along the shores of the state – some as close as 30m from the beach – are also trapping and drowning the Turtles.

With months to go until the nesting season ends for these reptiles, the state Fishery Department said 30 Turtles had died in the first four months of this year.

In 2014, 47 Turtles were reported to have died. Throughout 2015, there were 59 recorded deaths. With 30 dead so far this year, the number for 2016 could be significantly higher.

WWF-Malaysia senior marine conservation officer Sharifah Ruqaiyah Syed Mustafa said she had received reports of over 20 deaths in the Kemaman district alone and 10 to 15 deaths in Setiu so far this year.

Conservationists, worried that many more deaths have gone unreported, are deeply concerned about the lack of enforcement against the use of the illegal nets by fishermen, some of whom are now “bold enough” to mark the position of these nets with buoys.

And while some fishermen used to furtively retrieve their nets in the wee hours, some of them now turn up as late as 7am to 8am.

State Agriculture, Agro-based Industry, Plantations and Commodities Committee chairman Nawi Mohamad confirmed the increase in the number of Turtle deaths, mainly Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas).

“Most of these deaths are caused by fishermen using nets banned by the Government to catch the Stingrays. Nets with a mesh size of 25cm and above are banned because they also trap Turtles,” he said in an interview here.

While smaller nets with mesh size of 15cm or 20cm are not banned, fishermen prefer using nets with bigger mesh – some as large as 33cm or 35cm – to catch bigger Stingrays that can fetch up to RM10 per kilo at wholesale price.

At some hypermarkets in Kuala Lumpur, Stingray – popular as ikan bakar (grilled fish) and for local curries – can fetch up to RM28 per kilo.

Unfortunately for the Turtles, Stingrays are also known to be found along the coast, particularly around reefs, in the sand and between the rocks, at this time of the year.

“The deaths of these animals are basically fuelled by demand for the stingray,” said a source who used to be in Turtle conservation.

“Turtles are a useless by-catch for the fishermen because Malaysians don’t eat the meat. The carcasses of Turtles trapped and drowned in these nets are usually sunk with stones.

"Catching Stingrays brings in a lot of money despite the risks. There is no motivation to stop catching them,” she said.

The length of a pukat pari – which catches only Stingrays – can run up to metres long when strung together.

One pukat pari – known as a bidang – measures 18m by 18m and is usually brought in from Thailand.

In 2014, the state Fishery Department was reported to have seized 15 such illegal nets. In 2015, there were no enforcement patrols.

So far, no one has been charged with possession of the banned nets, which can see a fine of up to RM3,000 and the fishing equipment seized.

“In my eight years here, I have never seen anyone charged or fined,” said Sharifah Ruqaiyah.

A state Fishery Department official said some fishermen were now stringing together nets of different mesh sizes to fool authorities patrolling the waters.

“Many of the fishermen also leave their nets in the sea, only checking their catch every day. The nets could be in the sea for days or even weeks.

"A Turtle trapped in one of the nets could have been saved if the fishermen checked on the nets every three to four hours or so,” he pointed out.

Source: The Star

Thanks Danielle Kreb for the news alert. An Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) was found stranded (seems to be code 2) in Kampar, Riau. No more details yet on the circumstances, morphometric etc. but this news link seems to suggest that it was a bycatch.

Source: Whale Strandings Indonesia Facebook