By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
Marine National Park Operation Centre 2 at Phuket announced earlier this week it would offer a cash reward of up to Bt20,000 to anyone who finds new turtle nests on the beaches of Phuket and Phang Nga in order to ensure that the turtle eggs will not be smuggled and sold in the black market and to ensure that the rare, newborn sea turtles will have a higher survival rate.
Sea turtles’ nesting season on the Andaman coast off southern Thailand is between November and March every year. The national park authority has been encouraging people to help the park officers conserve sea turtles by finding turtle nests. People who find leatherback turtle’s nest will be granted a Bt20,000 reward, while the prize for finding the nest of other marine turtle species is Bt10,000.
Marine National Park Operation Centre 2 also pointed out that those who discover the turtle nests must inform the park officers to safely retrieve the turtle eggs immediately and they must not retrieve the turtle eggs themselves, because not only is it against the law but also improper transportation of turtle eggs may hamper its hatching.
Phang Nga’s Khao Lampi-Hat Thai Mueang National Park chief Mongkol Lieuwiriyakul said the sea turtle conservation measure to reward people who help the park officers identify and safely retrieve turtle eggs is not new. The park has followed this policy for many years, but this nesting season is the first time that the campaign has been widely publicised and such a high reward offered.
Mongkol said the retrieved eggs will be relocated to a safe location and when the eggs are hatched, the park officers will look after the hatchlings until they are strong enough before returning them to the sea in order to increase their survival rate.
“Due to the lack of an advertising campaign, we did not get much collaboration from the public. Giving the people who find the turtle nests just a few thousand baht is not compelling enough, because they can sell turtle eggs in the black market at a far higher price,” he said.
It was also revealed that the price of turtle eggs in the black market was as high as Bt300 per egg.
“This is why this year we decided to increase the financial reward and widely advertised the campaign both in local and social media,” Mongkol added.
People in the coastal areas of Southeast Asia have a long tradition of hunting sea turtles for meat and consuming turtle eggs, as in the past the turtle population was abundant and turtle eggs could be commonly found.
However, this tradition has led to a large drop in the sea-turtle population and critically endangered the survival of many turtle species, especially the leatherback turtle. Authorities have registered all species of sea turtles in Thailand as conserved animals and the poaching or collecting of turtle eggs are now illegal. Even though sea turtles are conserved by law in Thailand, their number has reduced even further.
The Marine National Park Operation Centre 2 disclosed that this year alone, more than 25 sea turtles were found dead on the northern Andaman coast, due to the problems of plastic pollution in the sea, illegal fishing and turtle eggs smuggling.
Mongkol informed that the long and quiet beaches from Thai Mueang Beach in Phang Nga to Mai Khao Beach in Phuket are among the most prominent nesting grounds for sea turtles in Thailand, so many turtle nests could easily be found at these beaches in the past.
But as the number of sea turtles continues to drop, even in the major nesting grounds inside Khao Lampi-Hat Thai Mueang National Park, the turtle nests have become rare. The leatherback turtle’s nest has not been sighted in this park for four years, he said.
He added that with more progressive measures on advertising the campaign, he hoped more people would help the park officers in monitoring the new turtle nests and enhance the efficiency of sea-turtle conservation.