Hope blos­soms for en­dan­gered tur­tles

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By CHI­NADAILY

Af­ter cau­tiously mak­ing sure that no peril is in sight, a sea tur­tle crawls onto a beach in the dark­ness. It digs a hole in the sand and be­gins to lay eggs in­side. Af­ter lay­ing more than 100, the tur­tle cov­ers the nest with sand, scrapes it smooth and re­turns to the ocean.

This sce­nario hap­pens sev­eral times a year at Na­tional Huizhou Sea Tur­tle Re­serve. About 80 kilo­me­ters east of Shen­zhen, the re­serve’s 1-kilo­me­ter-long beach con­trasts with the aqua­ma­rine of the South China Sea. Beyond the sand, in the hills, re­searchers fight to keep the tur­tles from ex­tinc­tion.

Es­tab­lished in 1985, the re­serve has wit­nessed a drop in the num­ber of lay­ing sea tur­tles — from more than 100 yearly in the 1980s to sin­gle dig­its now.

“Only a few sea tur­tles have laid eggs in re­cent years,” said Wang Shaofeng, deputy direc­tor of the re­serve. “And, un­for­tu­nately, there hasn’t been one yet this year.”

The cri­sis of the sea tur­tle in China is a mi­cro­cosm of the sit­u­a­tion world­wide. Six out of the seven species of sea tur­tles (one has in­suf­fi­cient data) face the prob­lem of de­clin­ing num­bers and are marked as “vul­ner­a­ble”, “en­dan­gered” or even “crit­i­cally en­dan­gered” — one step away from ex­tinc­tion— on the red list of threat­ened species main­tained by the In­ter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture.

The re­serve in Huizhou is the only known ac­tive lay­ing ground re­main­ing for sea tur­tles along the 18,000-kilo­me­ter coast­line of the Chi­nese main­land.

Still, ev­ery­one at the re­serve is giv­ing their best to help hatch the eggs, nur­ture the hatch­lings, save wounded tur­tles and raise public aware­ness through ex­hi­bi­tions about wildlife con­ser­va­tion.

The tur­tle re­serve rep­re­sents only a frac­tion of the work be­ing done to im­prove the wa­ter qual­ity and bio­di­ver­sity of the sea.

Corals have been trans­planted from ar­eas that could po­ten­tially be harmed by a pipe­line, even though, ac­cord­ing toChi­naNa­tional Off­shore Oil Corp, waste has been re­peat­edly cleansed to meet ex­tremely high stan­dards be­fore be­ing dis­charged into the ocean.

Thou­sands of man­grove trees have been planted to re­place un­reg­u­lated oys­ter farms whose dikes have blocked the free flow of wa­ter, which would nor­mally re­sult in cleaner wa­ter from di­lu­tion. Un­reg­is­tered fish­ing boats have been banned to elim­i­nate poach­ers.

“We’ve been en­gag­ing these mul­ti­ple meth­ods to keep the en­vi­ron­ment in a rel­a­tively good state,” saidWang Zhengyin, direc­tor of Huizhou city’s Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Ocean and Fish­eries. “We use the land and the ocean in an in­ten­sive yet thrifty man­ner.”

Aware­ness is also passed on to young­sters vis­it­ing the re­serve by their par­ents.

“We brought our son here to see the rare crea­ture, and also toteach­him­lesson­s­abouten­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion,” said Lin Sheng, a vis­i­tor from the Huizhou ur­ban area, hold­ing the hand of her 7-year-old son.

Re­searchers main­tain an op­ti­mistic at­ti­tude about see­ing more tur­tles lay­ing eggs.

“One fac­tor is that it takes sea tur­tles 20 or even 50 years to reach pu­berty,” the city’s Wang said. “So it might take a while be­fore we see a sub­stan­tial in­crease.

“Plus, as sea tur­tles are mi­gra­tory crea­tures, it will re­quire joint ef­forts from dif­fer­ent coun­tries to bet­ter con­serve the species. Our GPS data show that a tur­tle re­leased from here trav­els to Ja­pan or to the Philip­pines, but they will even­tu­ally come back to lay eggs here.” Liang Shuang con­trib­uted to this story.

CAI RUIZHI / FOR CHINA DAILY

An­i­mal lovers take pic­tures with a sea tur­tle in Oc­to­ber be­fore it is set free at the Na­tional Huizhou Sea Tur­tle Re­serve.

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