Profits on Conservation Benefits

IMG_1270We have been operating a sea turtle conservation program in a small village on Tioman Island. The village, Kg Juara, is fast becoming tourism oriented and moving away from other means of income like farming, fishing, and rubber-tapping. Issues that have caused the local and world-wide decline in sea turtle populations are the same issues faced all around the world, everywhere there are sea turtles and people. Since we live here on Tioman, where sea turtles also live, it is our goal to try and conserve this area as a healthy nesting area for the them.

Our approach started by taking for granted the idea that all people wanted to help the sea turtles, and in turn help their tourism economy over the long run by having a healthy beach, reef, and tropical ecosystem. We talked locally about biodiversity and how the sea turtle species are going extinct around the world, thus making Kg Juara a special and important location for them. While many people agreed with these ideas and points, the practical application of conservation was often lost, and or the unfortunate, but totally understandable, desire to develop more overruled ideas on saving nature for the future.

We ran into some flaws by promoting conservation strictly based on biological and preservation reasons and decided to try some other tactics. For instance, if the needs of biodiversity do not resonate with someone operating a resort, then perhaps we aught to try speaking more in line with their interests of profits. With these ideas we began promoting how helping turtles can help business, how much tourists like sea turtles, and how helping to preserve a nesting beach is also like preserving a economic asset for the future. There are even statistics out there on how much one turtle is worth to the tourism industry, creating revenue from snorkel trips, diving, location promotion, general interest and more.

Additionally we started a very simple sea turtle nest sponsorship program. Traditional egg-collection, which is still legal in Malaysia, creates some income for the one family who is doing the collecting and selling. We however, can pay for the nest to be collected and brought to out hatchery and then begin to generate exponentially more revenue from it over the two months that it lays incubating. We create revenue from our specific nest sponsorship programs, tourist information tours, volunteer involvement programs, and from supportive organizations. That revenue is all based on interest and support for the eggs being collected, protected and put in the sand to hatch, instead of being sold or eaten.(Copy) P1040627

So where traditional egg collecting can create limited income for one family, through conservation we can generate far more income and spread it among far more people. The recipients of our income include the three local families working with us, the family we rent land from, the government to whom we pay taxes, two full time Malaysian marine biologist staff, one foreign worker, quite a few assorted school and village functions, and as many locally contract workers as we can make projects for. When a turtle egg in the market is valued at about MYR3, we can estimate a protected turtle egg is currently creating about MYR25 each, and of course a protected egg is also creating more sea turtles!

However, either the pockets of conservation are not deep enough, or our organization is not adept enough, because the sea turtles are still loosing literal ground on which to come and nest. The income generated and spread around by nest protection does not compare to the potential income generated by a two story hotel with beach side pool and bar, and everybody seems to know it. Natural beach is becoming more scarce here on Tioman, as are the turtles in the sea becoming more scarce due to ongoing threats such as trawling nets, pollution, and global egg-collection.

As we continually restructure our approach here on Tioman, we have realized the importance of highlighting and promoting biological aspects of conservation as well as appealing to financial. While conservation and nature preservation can be healthy economically and socially, many tourist areas with now wasted ecology still have very prosperous tourism economies. While the success of a conservation effort may likely be determined by profitability, the benefits of conservation itself cannot be totally quantified within the ideals of profits.

For better or worse, it already doesn’t look like this anymore.

Published version :  52-54 75th Special_Turtle.pdf

Why don’t we keep baby turtles?

About Keeping Baby Turtles..

In answer to the common question “why don’t we keep baby turtles” and grow them bigger before releasing them; first lets explore why people would, and do, do this.

So, why would one think to keep baby sea turtles?

1) To grow them big and strong; to give them a head-start on life.

Yes, but actually this disrupts the turtles natural life cycle and confuses their time based instinct program (see more below).  You could think of it like; as their bodies get bigger in the tanks, their minds get dumber and or more confused.

2) To stop predators from attacking and eating them; to help them to survive.

Yes, but actually this disrupts nature. Natural predators have never endangered the survival of the sea turtle species. Human created issue are the ones endangering them, and the ones that need to be focused on and approached, not other animals.

Growing them big may protect them from: Fish, birds, crabs, sharks etc. ,  but does not protect them from the main threats which endangering the species such as:

  • Fishing – can still can catch large turtles in their nets
  • Rubbish – any size turtle may mistake a plastic bag for a yummy jellyfish
  • Egg Collection – really big turtles still have their eggs collected for eating & selling
  • Beach development – can still scare away an adult turtle from nesting

Additionally and importantly; growing the babies bigger does only not help them.. but it takes attention away from the real threats!

3) Because they are cute and we want to play with them, or make money from tourist attraction

Actually if managed correctly turtles can be kept as a valuable education tool or fundraiser (not  a tourist attraction) but for these purpose it is not necessary to keep many babies, especially considering the negative effects.


The sea turtles instinct program

Sea turtles, especially as babies, have a sensitive time based instinct program. A key example is their frenzy period, which is the time when they have just hatched and then swim for up to 1 week away from the beach and into ocean currents. If the turtles are not released immediately, their instincts to swim away from shore (frenzy) continues anyway.  When the babies area actually released they ‘think’ they have already swam away from shore and are already in the ocean currents (when they have really just been swimming around in a tank), so they are less likely to swim away and are prone to stay near shore where they are more susceptible to threats like predators, fishing and boat strikes.

032 lifecycle2

With all that said, there are many scientific facilities partaking in keeping babies before releasing them. Technically it is called Head-Starting, and it has not been proven or dis proven as beneficial, even though extensive studies and tagging experiments have been done. Certainly it does help them pass from animal threats (assuming they do leave the coastal areas), and most likely they can recover their instinctual programming to some extent. Still the most commonly advised technique is: Get the babies in the ocean as fast as possible, deal with the specie threatening issues, and get out the way of their life cycle!


In Conclusion

We have decided not to keep baby turtles because it has not been proven to positively outweigh its negative effects. We think it takes a lot of focus away from the serious issues that are threatening the survival of sea turtles and their habitats, and puts a lot of focus on playing with baby turtles.  We prefer to use the more natural method of hands-off, and following the guidance of their natural life cycle.

It should be noted that you can release as many turtles of any age into the ocean as you want, but if they don’t have protected habitat (beaches to nest on, oceans to swim in, coastal areas to feed) then what is the point? They will all die soon without their supporting environment.

Also, we do keep a turtles (in our case a blind turtle named Jo) as an education and awareness tool, because she cannot survive on her own in the wild, and as a fundraiser for other programs and goals we want to achieve here.

For those reasons we think it is a fair and good idea to keep her.  Captivity only benefits her because she will die on her own in the wild; healthy and fit turtles (and the specie in general) receive no benefit by being retarded from their natural life course.

we love Jo