Littoral litter tackled in Terengganu

Piles of rubbish washed up on the beaches of Malaysia's Terengganu are polluting nesting grounds of critically endangered turtles and discouraging tourists vital for the economy.

The blighted beaches are to be the latest target for international campaign Clean Up the World and volunteers from Australia and Malaysia will blitz a 10km stretch of coastline later this month.

Clean Up the World began in 1989 when yachtsman Ian Kiernan, disgusted by the amount of sea-borne litter he saw while sailing, organised a communal clean up of Sydney Harbour.

The idea took off and now inspires an estimated 35 million volunteers from over 100 countries every year.

Kiernan will be among the volunteers in Terengganu, alongside Malaysian eco-champion Captain Mokh.

Terengganu beaches are nesting grounds for four of the world’s seven species of marine turtle – the leatherback, green, hawksbill and Olive Ridley turtles.

This year less than half the usual number of turtles have come to nest in the Terengganu beaches in 2005.

Only one leatherback turtle – the most endangered of Malaysia’s turtles – has been sighted so far.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classes leatherback and hawksbill turtles as “critically endangered”, the most threatened category, while Olive Ridley and green turtles are listed as “endangered”.

Thousands of tourists camp on the beach, with some going as far as to ride on the turtles’ backs.

Entanglements in fishing nets and egg ravages have also contributed to the turtles’ decline, while plastic, glass and other dangerous rubbish left on the beach is yet another threat.

Fishermen often throw petrol and oil cans overboard, and fishing nets and ropes are also known to end up in the sea.

Pollution, and associated health problems, is an emerging issue in the area.

On shore, the situation is equally alarming: not a single beach is free of plastic, glass and metal debris; and tourists and locals are equally responsible for carelessly discarding rubbish.

By Sam Bond

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