Friday 5 April 2013

Turtles: Guardians of the Ocean

HotScience | Petrosains

Did you know there are land and marine turtles? Tortoises are land turtles and due to its bulky shape, it can’t swim.  Unlike tortoises, marine turtles e.g. leatherback turtles, are able to swim without any difficulty due to its aerodynamic shape. The other feature that enables a marine turtle to swim is the presence of flippers. Both are reptiles. 

Meet the Hawksbill Turtle
Marine turtles are well-adapted to life in the marine environment and live in tropical and subtropical ocean waters throughout the world.  The main marine turtles that are found in the seas and coastal areas of Malaysia are:
•    Green turtles
•    Leatherback turtles
•    Hawksbill turtles
•    Olive Ridley turtles

Dr. Juanita Joseph - SEATRU Project Leader facilitating the public engagement session at Petrosains.
Why is it important to protect and conserve marine turtles? 
The main goal of marine turtle conservation is to prevent the different species from becoming extinct.  This is done through many different methods, including legislation and international agreements.  Marine turtles are also the important link to two ecosystems – beaches and oceans.  In terms as a source for food and food-related activities, we will be in a lot of trouble if something happens to both the turtles and the ecosystems. 

Starting young, a visitor making her first pledge to conserve turtles.
How do turtles contribute to the environment and our livelihood?

1.    Beaches and dune systems do not have many nutrients on it. When marine turtles use beaches and the lower dunes to nest and lay their eggs, eggs that are not hatched and hatchlings that do not make it out of the nest becomes good sources of nutrients for the dune vegetation. Even the left-over egg shells from hatched eggs provide nutrients.

2.    Dune plants use the nutrients from turtle eggs to grow and become stronger.  Healthy vegetation and strong root systems hold the sand in the dunes and protect the beach from erosion.
3.    Marine turtles eat jellyfish and prevent large “blooms” of jellyfish to cause havoc on fisheries, recreation and other maritime activities throughout the oceans.
4.    Research has shown that sea grass beds grazed by green turtles are more productive than those that aren’t. Hawksbill turtles eat sponges, preventing them from out-competing slow-growing corals. Both of these grazing activities maintain species diversity and the natural balance of fragile marine ecosystems.
5.    Marine turtles are an important attraction for marine tourism, a major source of income for many countries.

Identifying turtles through Photo ID technique.

This was found in the stomach of a shark. Can you guess what it is?
1.    Carapace is the top domed part of a turtle's shell and the bottom part is called the plastron.
2.    The carapace consists of approximately 50 bones.
3.    The largest is the Leatherback sea turtle which can reach up to 30 metre in length.
4.    A group of turtles is called a bale.
5.    Turtles have a sharp beak for eating.

Dr. Juanita Joseph in action at HotScience @ Petrosains.

'Saya berjanji' - visitors making pledges to protect turtles.

This article is written in conjunction with Petrosains' Public Engagement Session on 1-3 December 2012 with scientists from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, led by Assoc. Prof. Liew Hock Chark (Founder of Sea Turtle Research Unit - SEATRU) and Dr. Juanita Joseph (Project Leader of SEATRU).

Monday 1 April 2013

Protecting Our Mangroves - a Program by Petrosains PlaySmart Johor Bahru

The participants of the mangrove cleaning and replanting program.
 In conjunction with the recent Petrosains Environment Day Celebration 2013, Petrosains Playsmart Johor Bahru held a Mangrove replanting program at the Tanjung Piai National Park. University students, officials from government agencies, as well as the communities from the nearby areas lent a hand towards making the program a success. Agencies such as MARDI Johor and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia shared important and valuable knowledge with the public concerning the interdependence between man and nature, with specific references to the role of the mangroves.

Good turnout from various groups and communities in support of the program.
 The significance of coastal forests specifically mangroves in protecting the land against strong waves and winds has increasingly been recognised, especially after the tragedy of the 2004 tsunami. Many post-tsunami surveys and field research strongly support the findings that coastal forests can provide a physically powerful barrier protecting the land from high waves and storms. According to the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), “one of the main functions of coastal forests is to absorb the impact forces and to retard the flow of large storm waves and tsunamis”. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world including Malaysia, there has been widespread loss of our natural ‘shield’ mainly due to agriculture, aquaculture and land development activities.

Although much has been lost, critical efforts to protect, conserve and rehabilitate mangrove areas are increasing, in the hope of rebuilding our ‘shield’ against natural hazards such as tsunamis.

During the mangrove replanting program, the participants braved mud and silt to help strengthen the coastal forest of the Tanjung Piai National Park. This is important as other than functioning as a wave breaker, mangrove forests are also a ‘strainer’. Debris such as plastics, bottles and other trash even natural ones like sticks are brought by the currents and are caught in between the tangled roots of the mangroves, thus keeping the waters clean and safe. That day, the participants managed to collect an amazing amount of debris totalling 315 kg in less than half an hour while replanting in areas that are sparse of trees especially once trash has been cleared.

This program by Petrosains PlaySmart Johor Bahru is a platform for educating Malaysians on the importance of the mangroves to mankind. Hopefully, in the future, many more will join up and contribute to the preservation of our natural treasures for a greener, cleaner and most importantly safer place for future generations of Malaysians.        

Trash cleanup.
Big haul of trash from the mangrove areas.

Sometimes nature could use a hand.

Replanting the mangroves where needed.

A participant learns the ropes of planting mangrove seedlings.