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Only after the last tree has been cut down;
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By Forest Ang

......volunteers are urgently needed to help....

No, that was not the measurement of a beauty queen contest. We were measuring the track width of the painted terrapin. The average of the 3 readings of 36 cm, 35 cm and 36 cm were made for each recorded painted terrapin.

The hidden beauty of Setiu

It was past midnight along a stretch of secluded beach of Setiu, Trengganu. We were a bunch of volunteers manning the 5 km long beach. Our tasks include measuring the length and breath of the terrapin, the weight, the nest distant from the water levels and from the beach markers. The engraved number found on each terrapin was recorded. For those that do not have numbering, a new number were craved on the shells. Hard work but that was the critical needs to ensure the survival of the painted terrapins.

Unlike marine turtles and the river terrapin, painted terrapins will be on the way to extinction if no effort was done to help in the hatching of their eggs. These painted terrapins were such a simple creature. They did not trick or cheat when laying their eggs. It was very easy to identify the exact spot where the terrapin laid her eggs. She went up, dug a hole, and covered it and headed straight down to the sea. With such simple routine, one can easily spot the area where the eggs were laid. The terrapin also had their body weight pressed on the soft sand before moving off. These imprints exposed the exact nesting holes. Each nest usually contains about 10-15 eggs. With fewer eggs and easy spotting of the nesting sites, their days are numbered.

Storeroom used as temporary cemetery for the hundreds of Painted Terrapins

Several years ago, several hundred carcasses of painted terrapins were found along Setiu River. What about those carcasses that were not found? It could be a few thousand! The cause was not known. When we were at the estuary the whole night till morning, we heard running machines from a factory. Could the factory be polluting the river? Expanding population, economic activities and pollution were the contributing factors to the declining population of painted terrapins. Fishing and the collecting of eggs were the main economic activities that caused the decline.

Conservationists and volunteers are urgently needed to help in the conservation effort by WWF. Help if you can. Please email Ms Wong for possible volunteer stint at Setiu. You will enjoy the adventure and the beauty of Setiu, not many people has the opportunity to see. You will not regret.

July 06


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