Terrapins versus safer boat passage

New Straits Times
17 Mar 2007

By Sean Augustin

SETIU: A clash between development and conservation is looming at an important nesting ground for river terrapins here.

Conservationists are concerned that the building of a fish landing complex and a proposed waterway at Kampung Mangkok, here, will jeopardise the nesting ground for river and painted terrapins in the area.

Earlier this year, fishermen in Kampung Penarik, Gong Batu and Fikri had called for a new Sungai Setiu waterway to be created at Kampung Mangkok to enable easier and safer passage for their boats.

Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) Turtle Research and Rehabilitation project leader (Institute of Oceanography) Professor Chan Eng Heng said while they were not against projects that would benefit the community, their main concern was the terrapins.

"The terrapins would not be able to nest due to the disturbance created by river traffic when the fish landing complex is completed.

"The lights from the complex would cause the terrapins, which are extremely sensitive creatures, to get disorientated.

"A flick of a cigarette is enough to scare them away," she told the New Straits Times.

The river terrapins are listed as critically endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red Data Book and are also Southeast Asia?s most threatened turtle species.

"They are extremely rare and nowhere else can you find a viable wild population as in the Terengganu rivers," Chan said, adding that the river terrapin conservation project had attracted international attention.

Professor Tom Herman, who is collaborating with Chan on the project, said on the whole, the Terengganu, Dungun and Setiu rivers were important nesting grounds for river terrapins.

"But the Setiu river is the most important one in the whole of Peninsular Malaysia as it supports both the river and painted terrapins," said Herman, who is co-director of the Centre for Wildlife and Conservation Biology at Acadia University in Canada.

UMT coastal processor Professor Mohd Lokman Husain, 47, said the proposed channel would mean that the area would have a higher intake of sea water, which in turn would lead to brackish water penetrating further into the wetlands.

Brackish water is created when sea water mixes with fresh water, reducing its salinity.

The channel would affect the conservation project site, forcing the terrapins to search for new nesting grounds.


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