Illegal fishing blamed for protected turtle death

Officials examine the dead turtle which was released into the wild in 2015. Supplied

Officials examine the dead turtle which was released into the wild in 2015. Supplied

An adult female royal turtle, among 21 of the endangered species released into the wild with installed microchips and GPS transmitters in 2015, has been found dead due to illegal electrofishing in Koh Kong province’s Sre Ambel district.
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) yesterday, fishermen found the body of a royal turtle floating along the Sre Ambel river system, an  area in Cambodia where the river meets the sea and where some of the turtles call home.
The turtle was about 11 years old and weighed nine kilograms, it added.
The WCS and the Fisheries Administration (FiA) inspected the turtle and found it had been killed by illegal electrofishing, based on the marks on its head.
The royal turtle, also known as the southern river terrapin (Batagur affinis), was designated Cambodia’s national reptile in 2005. It was listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature last year and added to their Red List of Threatened Species.
In Hul, an FiA official who works directly to conserve this critically endangered species, told Khmer Times that the dead turtle was found on February 6.
“As a conservator and FiA official, I really regret the loss of a royal turtle which is Cambodia’s national reptile. This species is critically endangered,” he said.
Mr. Hul added that illegal electrofishing activities usually occur at night along the Sre Ambel river. FiA and WCS always educate villagers and fishermen about the species by distributing posters and informing them of activities that endanger the turtles.
He said two measures have been planned to help conserve the species and prevent them from being killed by electrofishing.
The first measure will see rangers patrolling areas where illegal electrofishing is known to occur.
The rangers will seize and destroy hooks that have been baited with shrimp, which attracts the turtles, he added.
He said the second measure would involve a working group that includes the FiA, WCS and police patrolling at night at least twice a month.
Recently, the conservation working group found a royal turtle nest that had 14 eggs.
The working group built a fence and hired villagers to protect the eggs until they hatch.
Last year, a total of 206 turtles, including babies, were transferred from an old center in Sre Ambel district along with 13 Siamese crocodiles to the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center in Mondol Seima district.
They will be released into the wild once the turtles are better able to survive on their own.
WCS technical advisor Som Sitha said: “We really regret losing a royal turtle that our conservation team released [into the wild] in 2015.”
Illegal fishing activities and the destruction of the species’ shelters along the Sre Ambel river system greatly threatens the turtles’ survival and will make it go extinct if nothing is done, he added.
“I would like to ask local authorities, villagers and fishermen to protect the royal turtles and unify to stop illegal electrofishing,” he said.
Ouk Vibol, director of the fisheries conservation department of the FiA, confirmed that the FiA will establish a protected and conservation area in Sre Ambel district in order to protect this species and eliminate all illegal fishing activities.

Source: Khmer Times

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