Turtles Returned to the Sea

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has released three green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), including 2 juveniles and 1 adult, and 1 juvenile hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the southeastern waters of Hong Kong today.

The juvenile green turtles and the hawksbill turtle were found by members of the public and AFCD staff on Clear Water Bay Second Beach and Campers’ Beach in Sai Kung and Yan Chau Tong between October 2012 and May this year.

After an initial check-up by the AFCD, the turtles were taken to Ocean Park for a veterinary assessment and care.

The adult green turtle, which has been taken care by Ocean Park since 2002, returns to the sea. (Image by AFCD)
The adult green turtle, which has been taken care by Ocean Park since 2002, returns to the sea. (Image by AFCD)

The adult green turtle was kept by Ocean Park since 2002. It was among the hatchlings artificially incubated from a batch of eggs collected in Sham Wan on Lamma Island in 2001. Because it had a slight deformity on its shell, it was looked after by Ocean Park.

The juvenile turtles ranged from 4.05 to 12.85 kg in weight and their shells were from 35 to 47cm in length, while the adult turtle weighed 76.5 kg and its shell was 79cm. All of them were in good condition, indicating that they were ready to be returned to the sea.

Before returning them to the sea, the AFCD tagged each turtle with a microchip and Inconel tags for future identification, and attached a satellite transmitter to their backs. By tracing their oceanic movements and locating their feeding grounds, the AFCD can collect data for formulating appropriate conservation measures and share findings with various conservation authorities such as tha Gangkou Sea Turtle National Nature Reserve in Huidong (Guandong Province).

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department released green turtles and hawksbill turtle in the southeastern waters of Hong Kong today (June 23). Before the turtles are released back into the wild, satellite transmitters are attached to their back to collect information on their movements. (Image by AFCD)
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department released green turtles and hawksbill turtle in the southeastern waters of Hong Kong today (June 23). Before the turtles are released back into the wild, satellite transmitters are attached to their back to collect information on their movements. (Image by AFCD)

Of the five sea turtle species found in Hong Kong waters, the hawksbill turtle is relatively rare and the green turtle is to date the only species known to nest locally.

 

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Call for Protection of South Lamma Waters for Turtles

The following item was taken from the SCMP of the 7/6/2014. I should mention before you read it, that the AFCD is supposed to close Sham Wan and clean up the beach for nesting season from 1st of June each year, but a personal acquaintance of mine confirmed that by 8th of June this year nothing had been done and Sham Wan was covered in rubbish and the bay was full of pleasure craft and water skiers….either the rules changed or AFCD is not doing its job.

“Give Hong Kong’s green turtles a fighting chance to survive”

Five species of sea turtle can be found in Hong Kong. One of them, the green turtle, actually nests here. This giant used to nest on the beaches of several offshore islands, and the eggs were harvested and sold by local villagers. Now, only Sham Wan on Lamma Island supports a very small breeding population.

A decline in sea turtle populations has been observed in many locations across Asia. One increasingly significant cause is the exploitation of turtles for trade in their products or even in whole specimens.

A report by Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, indicates that there has been an increase in demand for sea turtle products in China. There have also been strong indications that some fishing vessels from China are targeting sea turtles in their operations in tropical Asia. This is reflected by a growing number of cases of Chinese fishing vessels being detained by Southeast Asian countries and protected sea turtles being found on board.

Green turtles are slow to mature: it takes between 26 and 40 years before they are able to breed. Once they reach adulthood, they have few natural enemies and can live and reproduce for a long time.

The most vulnerable stages of their lives come when they are in the egg and when they are small hatchlings. It is estimated that only two to three turtles in every thousand survive to return to their natal beaches to breed.

Their exceptional orientation abilities ensure that they can find their way across vast oceans to return to the natal beach to nest; however, when subject to heavy exploitation, breeding becomes extremely difficult and it takes a long time for a depleted population to bounce back, as there is unlikely to be any “recruitment” from other, healthier populations.

Another special adaption of sea turtles is that their sex is determined by the temperature at which their eggs are incubated. If the incubation temperature is below 29 degrees Celsius, males, predominantly, will be produced, while only females will be produced at temperatures above 30.4 degrees. Rises in temperature resulting from climate change pose a great uncertainty for their future survival.

Green turtles migrate long distances from their breeding sites to feeding grounds, which increases their chance of coming into harm’s way. Satellite tracking by Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department shows turtles can travel several hundred kilometres from Hong Kong, to waters near Hainan Island , eastern Guangdong and Vietnam. Adults feed mainly on algae and sea grass but also eat some invertebrates. They often mistake pieces of floating plastic for squid. Today, ingestion of non-digestible plastics is a common cause of sea turtle death.

Hong Kong’s nesting green turtle population now probably consists of just a few adult females. Some years may see zero nesting activity.

In 1999, the government established Sham Wan as a restricted area, with no entry allowed without a permit during the nesting season. The fisheries department also patrols the nesting beach, and when natural incubation of the eggs is deemed too risky, artificial incubation will be carried out.

These efforts have resulted in baby turtles being hatched successfully either naturally or artificially.

However, the weakest link in conserving this species here is that the coastal waters adjacent to the nesting beach at Sham Wan are not protected and are subject to disturbance from people engaging in water sports.

It is in these same shallow waters that male green turtles will wait for the females – to mate with them before they lumber up the beach to lay their eggs.

The waters around South Lamma were identified as a potential marine park or reserve in a previous planning study. Indeed, with the Convention on Biological Diversity being extended to Hong Kong in 2011, we have a responsibility to contribute to the convention’s biodiversity targets, one of which states that 10 per cent of coastal and marine waters should be conserved as protected areas by 2020.

To save the remnants of our green turtle population, we should spare no effort to protect the waters off Sham Wan and give these turtles space and time, and thus the best possible chance, to recover.

Michael Lau (senior head of programme for local biodiversity & regional wetlands at WWF-Hong Kong).

Update 108 Sea Turtles Released Back Into The Wild

Philippine authorities on Monday filed charges against nine of the 11 Chinese fishermen apprehended last week for allegedly poaching hundreds of endangered sea turtles in a shoal near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Prosecutor Allen Ross Rodriguez said that the Chinese fishermen face as many as 20 years in prison if convicted for gathering “critically endangered” species, such as the Hawksbill turtle.

Two Chinese suspects were released because they are minors, he said. In addition, five Filipino fishermen accused of loading the marine turtles onto the Chinese vessel were charged with the illegal gathering and trafficking of endangered species.

Philippines authorities said they found 489 sea turtles—108 of them alive and 381 dead—on the two boats. The authorities inventoried the turtles Saturday after the two fishing vessels arrived in Puerto Princesa, having been towed by maritime police for five days, Mr. Rodriguez said.

The live turtles were immediately released to sea after they were photographed to assist in the prosecution of the Chinese and Filipino fishermen.

Seventeen of the live turtles were Hawksbill while 91 were Green Sea turtles. The Hawksbill is a critically endangered species of marine turtle, the poaching of which could trigger, upon a conviction, 12 to 20 years of imprisonment or a fine of $2,290 per act. Philippine environmental laws allow bail for suspects accused of poaching if they are foreigners.

Associated Press video from YouTube (12th May 2014)

The Philippines is a hotbed for poaching. Five of the seven species of sea turtles around the world can be found in the Philippines because of the plentiful sea-grass beds.

Aside from the Hawskbill and Green Sea turtles, other species found in the country include the Olive Ridley, the Loggerhead and the Leatherback, the other marine-turtle species most threatened with extinction.

Sea turtles are valued for their eggs and meat—used in Chinese and other East Asian cuisine—and in Chinese medicine. The Japanese are a major buyer of sea turtle shells, known as bekko, which are used for ornaments and jewelry.

It takes decades before a sea turtle reaches maturity, and only then will females breed and return to the beaches where they hatched to lay their eggs. Predators, loss of habitat and other environmental threats mean as few as one in every 1,000 hatchlings reaches adulthood.

(Source Wall Street Journal Online, 12th May 2014)

Hong Kong has one of the last remaining nesting populations of endangered green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in southern China. According to a recent study (Ng et al., 2014) the number of nesting turtles observed in Hong Kong was relatively low compared with other sites in southern China, but the the number of eggs laid and intervals between nesting is comparable with that of other nearby sites. The nesting turtles are thought to be the survivors of a small population that was reduced by historical harvesting of eggs in Hong Kong. DNA analysis showed that populations in Hong Kong and Lanyu, Taiwan, are genetically different which means the two populations are somehow isolated from each other. So losing either of these populations would cause a loss of genetic diversity for this species in the region, which is bad news. By tracking local nesting turtles by with satellite tags their movements and feeding habitats in Vietnam and Hainan Island were discovered. The research urges to international cooperation and consistent dedicated research for the conservation and recovery of green turtles in the region.

Needless to say the poaching and slaughter of turtles in the region severely threatens an already endangered species.

Update on Sea Turtle Poachers Seizure by Philippines 8th May 2014

Philippine police seized a Chinese fishing vessel and detained its 11 crew members in South China Sea waters, claimed by both countries, in the latest escalation of their bitter maritime row.
National police spokesman Reuben Sindac said yesterday the 15-tonne boat was intercepted while fishing off Half Moon Shoal, west of Palawan, in what he said are Philippine waters.

The crew will be further charged with violating anti-poaching laws after a huge haul of 500 turtles was found on board, Sindac added.

But Beijing angrily responded that it has “undisputable sovereignty” over the Half Moon Shoal, which it calls the Ban Yue Reef, and urged the Philippines to “stop taking further provocative action.”

“Relevant authorities from China have arrived at the scene,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. “We ask the Philippines side to give their explanation and deal with this case properly,” Hua added.

“We ask the Philippines side to release the vessel and the crew.”

Lying around 111 kilometers west of Palawan, the shoal is located on the eastern edge of the Spratlys and is believed to harbor vast oil and gas resources.

Sindac said the vessel was intercepted along with a Filipino-manned fishing boat that also had a catch of around 40 protected turtles.

Half of the turtles aboard the two boats were already dead.

The Filipino fishermen were also detained.

It was not clear whether the two boats were working together when they were caught.

Source: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 8/5/2014

500 turtles seized on a Chinese vessel by Philippines in the South China Sea

According to BBC News (7/5/2014) Philippine police have seized a Chinese fishing boat carrying 500 endangered sea turtles near the disputed Spratly islands in South China Sea. Its 11 crew
Members were detained.
China’s Xinhua state news agency said the fishing boat – named as Qiongqionghai 09063 – had been seized.
Sunstar reports that the Chinese vessel was carrying 120 live turtles and 234 dead turtles.
Hong Kong has recorded instances of Green sea turtles, Loggerhead, Olive Ridley and Leatherback sea turtles (AFCD). Of these the endangered Green Sea turtle is known to breed in Hong Kong. Sea turtles have very long migration routes, so the turtles seized near the Spratlys could be on their way to nesting sites in Malaysia, gain an, Hong Kong or anywhere in the Pacific.
If you are interested in sea turtle conservation in China, Sea Turtles 911 has a good website with information and volunteering opportunities.

Rescued Green Turtle Returned to the Sea

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) released an adult female green turtle (Chelonia mydas) in the eastern waters of Hong Kong today (January 28, 2013).

On December 14, 2012, the AFCD received a report from a fisherman that a green turtle had been accidentally caught in a fishing net in the waters off Tai Po. The fisherman rescued the turtle and informed the AFCD, who collected it the same day.

Following an initial check-up by the AFCD, the turtle was taken to Ocean Park (OPHK) for a thorough veterinary assessment and was ascertained to be in good condition. Since then, it has been well looked after at OPHK with constant monitoring and veterinary care.

After a period of recovery, the turtle weighed 60kg and its shell was 84cm in length. Its good condition suggested it was ready to be returned to sea.

Before returning it to the sea, the AFCD tagged the turtle with a microchip and Inconel tags for future identification, and attached a satellite transmitter to its back. Green turtles are remarkable for their migratory behaviour. By tracing their oceanic movements and locating their feeding grounds, the AFCD can collect data and share the findings with various conservation authorities, thus playing a part in the conservation of this endangered species.

The AFCD is very thankful to the fisherman who rescued the turtle and the veterinarians and aquarium staff of OPHK for their efforts in taking care of it. Members of the public are urged to report any sighting or stranding of sea turtles to the department via 1823 to help protect them. The AFCD will continue its efforts in sea turtle conservation through ecological monitoring, habitat management and educational activities.

In Hong Kong, all sea turtle species are protected under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap 170) and the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap 586). The green turtle is one of five sea turtle species found in Hong Kong waters and to date is the only species known to breed locally. Green turtles are known for their loyalty to feeding sites and nesting grounds, which are generally their natal beaches. Sham Wan on Lamma Island is Hong Kong’s only known primary nesting site for green turtles, and has consequently has been designated as a restricted area during the nesting period, which lasts from June to October each year. Those without permits will not be allowed to enter the area.

In the summer of 2012, the AFCD recorded that a green turtle laid five clutches of eggs at Sham Wan, numbering over 550 eggs in total. The same turtle also nested in Hong Kong in 2003 and 2008 before returning to its feeding ground in Vietnam. From mid-August to December, 2012, the AFCD conducted regular patrols to protect and monitor the green turtle nests through the natural incubation period, which lasts for 50 to 80 days.

Unfortunately, no sign of hatchlings was observed during the 2012 incubation period at Sham Wan. One of the possible reasons for the unsuccessful hatching is that the eggs were unfertilised. According to the nesting turtle’s satellite telemetry results, it resided in the waters around Lamma during the inter-nesting period. After laying the last clutch of eggs in October, it left Hong Kong waters. The telemetry signals showed that it headed towards its feeding ground.

Before returning it to the sea, the AFCD tagged the turtle with a microchip and Inconel tags for future identification, and attached a satellite transmitter to its back. Green turtles are remarkable for their migratory behaviour. By tracing their oceanic movements and locating their feeding grounds, the AFCD can collect data and share the findings with various conservation authorities, thus playing a part in the conservation of this endangered species.
Before returning it to the sea, the AFCD tagged the turtle with a microchip and Inconel tags for future identification, and attached a satellite transmitter to its back. Green turtles are remarkable for their migratory behaviour. By tracing their oceanic movements and locating their feeding grounds, the AFCD can collect data and share the findings with various conservation authorities, thus playing a part in the conservation of this endangered species.
The green turtle has been well looked after at Ocean Park with constant monitoring and veterinary care. After a period of recovery, the turtle weighed 60kg and its shell was 84cm in length. Its good condition suggested it was ready to be returned to sea.
The green turtle has been well looked after at Ocean Park with constant monitoring and veterinary care. After a period of recovery, the turtle weighed 60kg and its shell was 84cm in length. Its good condition suggested it was ready to be returned to sea.

 

Two hawksbill turtles returned to sea

Press Release from Wednesday, June 27, 2012 from the AFCD Website (click here for original)

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) today (June 27) released two sub-adult hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the southern waters of Hong Kong. They were handed in to the AFCD in October 2010 and May 2012.

After initial assessment by the AFCD, the turtles were delivered to Hong Kong Ocean Park (Ocean Park) for appropriate veterinary treatment, where they have since been kept with constant monitoring and veterinary care. Ocean Park staff hand-fed the hawksbill turtles with squid, shrimp and fish, which form part of their natural diet.

“The first hawksbill turtle was found underweight and had abrasions on the carapace when it first arrived at Ocean Park in 2010. When the second turtle arrived in 2012, foreign objects such as zip ties and straws were found in its stool. It also showed signs of strained and stressed muscles. However, the turtles showed great improvement in their health and behaviour, and recovered well under our team’s close observation and intensive veterinary care,” the Chief Veterinarian of Ocean Park, Dr Paolo Martelli said.

During rehabilitation, the two turtles exhibited considerable growth in size and improvement in activity, and were finally deemed physically fit for release to the wild. They currently measure approximately 57 cm and 49 cm in carapace length and weigh about 15kg and 10kg respectively.


Before the turtles were released into the sea, the AFCD inserted microchips and metal tags with unique codes on their flippers for future identification. Satellite transmitters were also attached to their carapaces. By tracing the oceanic movement and feeding grounds of hawksbill turtles, the AFCD can formulate appropriate protection measures and seek co-operation with relevant authorities to better conserve this critically-endangered species.

The AFCD is very thankful to the veterinarians and staff of Ocean Park for their assistance and efforts in taking care of the turtles, and will continue to work with Ocean Park in handling such cases.

In Hong Kong, all sea turtle species are protected under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap 170) and the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap 586). Of the five species of sea turtles that can be found in local waters, hawksbills are the rarest. Hawksbill turtles are renowned for their strong bird-like beak and beautiful honey-marble carapace.

Members of the public are urged to report any sighting or stranding of sea turtles to the department via the 1823 Call Centre to help protect them. The AFCD will continue to promote public engagement in sea turtle conservation through educational materials and activities.