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Published:April 23rd, 2009 10:16 EST

Activists Ask Malaysians To Cut Turtle Eggs From Diet

By Christopher HIllenbrand

The conservationist organization, the World Wildlife Fund, has begun a marketing campaign to persuade Malaysians to stop eating turtle eggs, in an attempt to save the animals from becoming extinct.

Turtle eggs are a staple in the Malayian diet, and are one of the most sought-after foods being commercially sold in the federation consisting of thirteen states and three federal territories in Southeast Asia.

Turtles had migrated to the region by the tens of thousands to lay their eggs on the Malaysian coastlines. Species such as the leatherback, green, hawksbill, and the olive ridley turtles once flocked to the nation`s beaches, until the tourist industry for West Malaysia began convincing tourists to consume turtle eggs as what is touted a truly native cultural experience. In response, poachers and smugglers stepped up illegally ensnaring the creatures to keep a consistent supply for the state-fueled dining gimmick.

And as the illegal hunting progresses, the numbers of endangered turtles that were frequently sighted on the beaches are now dwindling.

The WWF initiated a five-month online campaign to gather 40,000 signatures from Malaysian citizens undelining an oath to not buy, sell and consume turtle and terrapin eggs and to make an effort to stop others from participating in the turtle egg industry.

Dionysius S.K. Sharma, the executive director for WWF`s Malaysian office, said: "Turtles play a critical role in keeping marine ecosystems healthy. Marine turtles are threatened with extinction due to various factors, including the practice of consuming turtle eggs, becoming accidentally caught in fishing gear, poorly planned coastal development, marine and nesting beach pollution as well as illegal trade and their parts."

Regarding the numbers of depleted turtles on Malaysian soil, Sharma offered information dating from the 1950`s showing that 10,000 leatherback species nested ashore in the country`s northeastern state of Terengganu every year. Current day estimates say that only about 10 leatherbacks appear on those same beaches a year.

Since Malaysia`s tourism promotion started, even the Turtle Research and Rehabilitation Group from the Universiti Malaysia Terengganu ran a "Say No to Turtle and Terrapin Eggs" campaign last year directed toward having a million Malaysians pledge to not buy and eat turtle eggs.

But government officials have said that state officers are making nightly patrols of hawksbill turtle nesting areas in the southern state of Malacca, where nearly 4,000 eggs were stolen by poachers.

Malaysian law prohibits the trading of turtle eggs unless they own a permit obtained from the fisheries department, but as the demand rises, illegal turtle egg hunters continue to flout the authorities to stock the fish markets with the restricted goods.

The conservationist`s campaigns have been paying off with exposing the dark underbelly of the cost of the nation`s eating habits to those native to Malaysia. In sea turtle nesting zones all across the federations, villagers volunteer or are paid to watch over the nesting sites to deter poachers.

Though the awareness programs are beginning to turn around the negative figures concerning the endangered species` population, they haven`t combated the problem effectively enough as Malaysia`s commercial centers are still teeming with turtle eggs and other turtle-derived foods.