The Marine Research Foundation (MRF) was contracted by DHI Water & Environment (M) Sdn. Bhd. (DHI) to update the desktop literature review of marine biology and ecology in the vicinity of the proposed development of the Kuala Linggi International Port off the Sg. Linggi River Mouth, District of Alor Gajah, Melaka . In addition to the literature review, MRF was contracted to undertake a one-month track census field investigation of nesting events on key nesting beaches within 10km of the proposed port development, undertake a beach ranking exercise to assess the suitability of the beaches for nesting state-wide for Malacca state and nesting beach within 10 km radius for N. Sembilan, using data provided by DHI.

In addition to sea turtles, MRF was requested to conduct a review of existing literature on distribution and frequency of occurrence of marine mammals (all protected species in Malaysia). The existence of Species of Conservation Importance within the area, if any, and their Conservation Status, should also be noted. Finally MRF was requested to provide input on potential impacts and mitigation measures to safeguard sea turtles and their habitats.

Sea turtles are vertebrates which have survived on the planet for more than 100 million years, and which have adapted successfully to changing environmental conditions, such as sea level rise and fall and temperature fluctuations. Indeed, their evolution has left them extremely well suited to a marine environment, and to their limited terrestrial life stage – emergence on beaches to lay eggs as adults, embryonic development, and emergence and ocean finding in hatchlings. Sea turtles are distinguished by particularly streamlined body shapes, elongated fore flippers- adapted for swimming, paddle-shaped rear-flippers for steering, salt excretion glands to rid the body of excess minerals, and reinforced bone structure of the skull as a compensation for the lack of withdrawal-into-shell mechanisms more widely known in their terrestrial tortoise relatives. The life histories of the seven species are relatively similar, and differ primarily in years to maturity, fecundity and reproductive strategies.

In Malacca the most well known sea turtle is the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), as this species emerges to lay eggs. However, Malacca waters are also home to migratory and developmental stage green turtles (Chelonia mydas) – and this was confirmed via one of the documented cases of stranded turtles during the present fieldwork. Principal threats to sea turtles come from direct capture of adults and juveniles, and egg collection, incidental capture in fisheries, and habitat loss or degradation. Many populations across the globe have declined substantially in the last 40 – 50 years due to anthropogenic pressures. Today sea turtles are the focus of countless conservation initiatives across the globe, and hawksbills are listed as Critically Endangered, and green turtles are listed as Endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Species. Both species are also on the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) Appendix 1 – no trade permitted.

The direct relevance of sea turtles to the proposed Kuala Linggi International Port (KLIP) development are threefold:

  • They are an endangered species protected under various national and international legal instruments;
  • Their natural biology such as the need for beaches for egg laying, coral reefs and sea grass meadows for foraging, and healthy marine environments through which to migrate make them particularly susceptible to human impacts. Specifically, the loss of nesting beaches can lead to population declines; lighting from industrial facilities can disrupt nesting and hatchling ocean finding and orientation; gillnets and other fisheries gear can entrap and drown sea turtles at sea; alongside multiple other impacts;
  • They posses sufficient charismatic appeal that they are among the more visible potential environmental concerns related to the proposed development.

In Malacca, the Department of Fisheries Malaysia – Malacca (DOFM-Malacca) and World Wildlife Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) have established long-term monitoring and conservation activities on nesting beaches, expanding the coverage over the years to encompass 18 key nesting sites. This monitoring effort results in data on monthly nests deposited at each site, and is maintained by DOFM Malacca.