Turtle sightings in Tioman

Over the course of the past several months running snorkelling trips out of Tioman Island in Malaysia, EcoFieldTrips staff have spotted a range of species showing off the area’s rich biodiversity. Although the team missed out on the whale shark that briefly stopped by the Island in late August, they still experienced the joy of being accompanied by several pods of dolphins on their way to dive sites as well as swimming with juvenile reef sharks and the occasional sea snake. However it was the turtles that brought the most excitement to the groups.

Indeed, several Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) have been sighted since August, putting credence behind the conclusion drawn is a recent study published in Science Advances: sea turtle numbers are on the rise. The paper was written with the intent of consolidating our current knowledge of sea turtle population dynamics, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been tracking for decades. As Antonios Mazaris and his fellow researchers have uncovered, there has been a positive increase in overall sea turtle numbers across the world.

Whilst there are some areas which have shown a decline, the global trend is looking up, with seven major species including the Hawksbills boasting larger population sizes than when the IUCN began keeping records in 1996. The reason for this notable uptick in numbers? Conservation efforts. Mazaris and his co-authors have lauded international conservation programs as a major reason for the population bounce-back of sea turtles, who, only a century ago were were almost hunted to extinction.

For example, the nearby Fiji Islands’ ban on the Hawksbill shell trade in 1991 as well as the government impose Turtle Moratorium in 2009 has led to an increase in turtle population across the island nation’s coasts. Likewise in Australia, recent studies indicate the same trend after stricter legislation was passed in order to protect turtles from boat strike or other environmental factors. A recent identification study in Malaysia has also shown an increase in population size of several species, including the Hawksbill.

The paper slyly suggests that if a global conservation efforts are put towards current issues affecting the decline of mammals, birds, amphibians and fish as they were for turtles, that there could be a turn-around in those trends. If past examples of international conservation are anything to swear by, Mazaris and his colleagues could certainly be right. Until then, EFT and the Juara Turtle Project will continue to monitor the reefs around Tioman and keep their eyes peeled for more sea turtles!


Vincent Diringer - EFT Biologist