Seven different species of sea turtles – also known as marine turtles – inhabit our oceans. Of these seven, only the green turtle has a stable population in Malaysia. The leatherback turtle is now extinct, and the hawksbill and the olive ridley are in precarious situations, with only a few tens of nests per year.
Thanks to a novel new initiative supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), there is, however, some hope for endangered sea turtles in the waters around this peninsular nation and its islands. Green turtles face the threat of accidental capture in commercial and artisanal fisheries, given that sea turtles share habitats with certain shrimp and fish. When fishing with a net, or trawling, nets roll along the seabed, indiscriminately catching and drowning numerous sea turtles. Some estimate that 3,000 to 4,000 turtles are accidentally caught each year in the state of Sabah alone. The lack of marine protection measures in Malaysia limits its shrimp exports due to legal restrictions from importing countries, presenting a large economic disadvantage.
The GEF Small Grants Programme has been supporting the Marine Research Foundation in Malaysia to develop and implement a long-term national bycatch reduction program, in partnership with the Department of Fisheries of Malaysia (DOFM). Building on ten years of experience of prior GEF SGP grants, with co-financing from several other donors like Conservation International, the latest SGP grant received two matching grants from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The GEF SGP project uses an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries to conserve sea turtles and their habitats through the introduction of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) .