FOR turtle conservationist Dr Chan Eng Heng, the Integrated Shrimp Aquaculture Park (i-SHARP) is bad news for the survival of two critically endangered terrapins.
In 2004, she pioneered research and conservation work on the river terrapin (Batagur affinis) and painted terrapin (Batagur borneoensis) populations in Sungai Setiu.
Upon her retirement from University of Malaysia Terengganu early this year, the marine reptile scientist set up the Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC) to continue efforts to augment the low nesting by restocking the population.
This is done by purchasing terrapin eggs from villagers, incubating them and releasing the hatchlings into the river. Thanks to Chan’s project, which has gained international recognition and financial support, the terrapin population has a chance to recover after decades of egg exploitation by the locals.
So far, 1,777 eggs have been purchased for incubation, representing half of the total number of eggs deposited mostly in Tebing Pasir Penarik, the major nesting bank for the river terrapin.
From these eggs, 1,128 hatchlings (overall hatch rate of 63.5%) have been produced and 500 released into Sungai Setiu. The hatchlings are partly raised in captivity before being released.
“Therefore, apart from the reproductively active adult population, the Setiu river network has a healthy population of young and sub-adult river terrapins ranging from three to 10 years of age. This developing population will continue to increase under the TCC’s efforts and will become the future generations of reproductively active river terrapins in Setiu,” explains Chan.
TCC has found that the terrapins typically occur in water with relatively low salinity of one to three parts per thousands. Hence, she has raised the alarm on the i-SHARP project that intends to discharge used sea water into Sungai Caluk, a tributary of Sungai Setiu.
“Studies (elsewhere) have found river terrapins to progressively lose weight as salinity increases. Their physiological conditions are impaired and they eventually stop feeding. Changes in the salinity regime of the Setiu river system will have dire effects on freshwater fish and prawns.
“The health of the river and its natural hydrological conditions must be maintained in pristine condition for it to continue supporting critically endangered wildlife, the livelihoods of fisherfolk and local inhabitants.”
She also criticises the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment for writing off many impacts as “non-issues”.
BAB has proposed the creation of Friends of Sungai Caluk (FSC) to lead conservation activities in a 2ha conservation site to preserve Sungai Caluk and its wildlife, as well as manage riparian vegetation along the river.
“We are presently in talks with the University of Malaysia Terengganu to conduct joint research as well as conservation activities under FSC,” it says.