Sea turtles in Vietnam: Status, threats and the role of international cooperation in conservationby Nguyen Hong Nhung
（Institute for International Relations- Hanoi, Vietnam International Politics and Vietnamese Diplomacy）
‘Ocean is our Big House
A house for all of us
Please give back our house
Please bring back our natural world’
This is a song in the story: “Gaudi's Ocean- The story of great sea turtle” written by a Japanese author Tajima Shinji. To anyone who has read the story, it's hard to forget Gaudi , the sea turtle's name, and his hard itinerary of trying to return to the ocean from a big city's entertainment area to protect his house and his family's life. I have learned much from Gaudi's great sacrifice and decided to write about the Vietnamese sea turtle. In
Vietnam, my country, a place used to be consider as ‘homeland’ for thousands of sea turtles, many of these species are being threatened by not only natural obstacles but also by human's activities. Habitat destruction, pollution and overconsumption are causing species to decline at a rate never seen before in history. This matter has become a global
environmental issue. It demands the common effort of every country to resolve. Vietnam has cooperated with many international environmental organizations in an effort to save this spiritually significant creature from danger.
・・・・・・・・・・・ベトナムの海岸を故郷にしている何千匹もの大海亀や地球上に住む生物の多くは、現在、自然の脅威ではなく、人間の脅威によってその生存が脅かされています。かれら生物の生息地は次々と破壊され、地球上では深刻な環境汚染や過剰消費などが急速に進んでおり、これまでの歴史にはなかったようなスピードで毎日生物の多くの種が滅んでいっています。こうした事態は今日、全地球的な環境問題になっており、すべての人々に環境問題への努力を促しています。ベトナムでは、環境破壊から重要な生物を救うために環境保護団体に協力して、環境保護への努力を続けようとしています。私たちの環境を保護するため努力を傾けている人はだれでも海亀に関する素晴らしい物語を書いた作者に感謝を捧げたいと思います。 （要約）For many years, Vietnam has attracted sea turtles, which come to lay their eggs on the country's 3000 km long and beautiful beaches. This amazing ancient animal is a symbol of wisdom and longevity and is one of the four holy animals of the Buddhist culture, along with the dragon, lion, and phoenix.
In Vietnam, scientists recognize five of the planet's seven species of sea turtles. They are Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), Green turtle (Chelonia mydas), Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea).
Four of them are listed as endangered, except for the loggerhead which is listed as threatened1. Turtles distribute in nearshore waters from Quang Ninh to Kien Giang, the Spratlys and especially in Con Dao islands, sea turtles come to nest in 14 small beaches there.
However, for the past few years, the situation for the sea turtle has become very serious. The number of mother sea turtles returning to Con Dao to nest has reduced dramatically in recent years: 10 turtles of each kind (leatherback and loggerhead) each year and only 3 hawksbills with 4 nests during 10 years (1994- 2003). The number of the others has also decreased by 70% in recent 30- 40 years2.
There are many reasons why sea turtle populations have plummeted toward extinction. In nature, sea turtles face many obstacles to their survival. Predators such as raccoons, crabs, birds and ants raid eggs and hatchlings still in the nest. After reaching adulthood, sea turtles may be attacked by sharks while swimming.
Source: 1IUCN Red book.
2 Source: report of Education for Nature- Vietnam
The natural obstacles faced by young and adult sea turtles are numbered, but it is the increasing numberless threats caused by humans that are driving them to extinction. Each year thousands of baby turtles emerge from their nests along the coast and enter the ocean. Unfortunately, only an estimated one in 10.000 will survive to adulthood.
Artificial lighting has caused many problems to both mother and baby turtles. Baby turtles get killed because they go the wrong way. After bursting out of the sand they head for the brightest area which is usually the sea because the moon is shining on the ocean. But sometimes the brightest place is not the ocean because hotel lights are a lot brighter than the moonlight over the water. They may head for shopping malls and other bright lights and get killed crossing roads or dried out because of their disorientation.
To mother turtle, she has to nest in a quiet, dark beach. Nesting is exhausting work and it lasts through the night. But now the beach mostly compete with tourists, businesses and coastal residents. This may cause a "false crawl", which means turtles unknown reasons decide to nest.
Each year, hundreds of turtles in Vietnam become entangled and drown in fishing nets because of commercial fishing and thousands of turtles eggs are stolen to sale in the local market cause eggs overconsumption. Shrimp trawling accounts for the incidental death of more juvenile and adult sea turtles than any other source. Although fishermen are required to put Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in their nets, unfortunately, not all of them comply with the law because of they think they will catch fewer shrimp or even do not know the existence of such a device. Adult sea turtles are not only harvested for their meat but also for their shells to make turtle products such as jewelry, necklaces, bracelets, etc3. Hundreds of stuffed turtles and turtle ornaments can be found in the tourist shops in Ho Chi Minh city.
Pollution can have serious impacts on both sea turtles and the food they eat. Research shows that a disease that kills many sea turtles (fibropapillomas) may be linked to pollution in the oceans and in nearshore waters. Oil spills, urban runoff of chemicals, fertilizers and petroleum all contribute to water pollution that kills aquatic plant and animal life and takes away the food sea turtles eat. They will also mistake plastics, packing bands, balloons, pellets, bottles, vinyl films, and styrofoam for their main food such as floating jellyfish. Many baby turtles get killed from eating bad things.
Although the problems of habitat destruction and exploitation seem almost too big to overcome, there are many Vietnamese researchers trying to save the turtles' habitat. They strive every day to keep the turtles, hatchlings and nests safe from their natural enemies and human-caused threats. At Con Dao National Park, from 1995 to 2002, there were 377,000 baby turtles successfully incubated and emerged from their nests. Only in 2000, there were 1,409 mother turtles who came to nest and make 4,308 nests on the beaches4.
Despite these achievements, Vietnam has faced many “the lack” difficulties in protecting sea turtles. Firstly, its lack of expenditure and technical experience in programmes of conservation to develop reseach in sea turtle’s habitat, and living environment. Secondly, the law on protecting sea turtles is still not tight enough and the lack of coordination between Ministry of Fishery and related bodies. Thirdly, the lack of international cooperation. There are only a few environmental organizations carry out their projects on sea turtles.
nternational cooperation and environmental organizations play a very important role in sea turtle conservation in Vietnam. They can help local projects be more effective by investing money to carry out study, provide technical tools for reseach and especially, enhancing the experience of management and study. Their activities will not only help sea turtle be saved from extinction but also speed up local government to establish a tight law on protecting and conservating sea turtles.
3.There are estimated 37.000 turtles products in markets.
4.Source: Report from Education for Nature- Vietnam (ENV)
Notably in Vietnam now there are present WWF Indochina and IUCN (the World Conservation Union) who are carrying projects on sea turtles.
WWF conserving turtles project started in 1994, and in 1995 it was launched in Con Dao Island for the first time. In 2000, the Marine and Coastal Programme of WWF Indochina was established, and conservation activities were extended to Nui Chua Natural Reserve in Ninh Thuan. In 2002, this programme was expanded to include Phu Quoc Island in Kien Giang. In these provinces, WWF has helped national staffs and local communities learn about the value of the sea turtle. They have attended special training courses learning how to monitor and protect the turtles, and, together with WWF, they have helped make their beaches a peaceful paradise for these ancient reptiles. With WWF’s help, the government is identifying suitable areas along the Vietnam coastline for the establishment of a network marine protected areas.
To step up this programme in all coastal areas of Vietnam, WWF has collaborated with IUCN (the World Conservation Union) on management and conservation of the sea turtle in several provinces of the country. One of these workshops was held in Quang Ninh and Bai Tu Long National Park. Participating in the projects, there were park staffs, officials of the fisheries department, local government representatives, fishing companies and fishing communities. Here, they heard for the first time about the danger facing the Vietnamese sea turtles and the solution to protect them.
People also discovered from the presentation that the exploitation of sea turtles is illegal in Vietnam. In order to play their part in the preservation of this highly endangered reptile, participants were also trained to identify different species, to tag and monitor sea turtles, and to protect and take care of their eggs.
The two organizations are continuously implementing their programmes and have futher contributed to Vietnamese sea turtle in particular and to Vietnamese nature in general. But sea turtles in Vietnam still need more help. Many creatures have already become extinct, and the sea turtle is one of those who has to face the possobility of being wiped out. There could be a time in the near future when sea turtles are just a kind found only in natural history museums - unless action is taken today.
In conclusion, sea turtles have existed for over 150 million years and now they are becoming extinct. To understand what really threatens sea turtle survival, we must look at the actions of humans. Habitat destruction, pollution and overconsumption, etc. have drived sea turtles to extinction. People mostly do not know that many things can be learned about the condition of the planet's environment by looking at sea turtles’ health. It is possible that a world in which sea turtles cannot survive may soon become a world in which humans cannot survive either. However, we now learn from our mistakes and begin changing our behavior. There is still time to save sea turtles, the earth's most amazing and time-honored creatures from extinction. And the more we act today, the sooner “our Big House” will be safe too.
Thanks to author Tajima Shinji for such a wonderful story about sea turtles and thanks for anyone who has tried and will try more their best to save our nature.
1. IUCN Red list and Guideline 2002
2. Vietnam Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, Red Data Book of Vietnam, Science and Technics Publishing House, Hanoi, Vietnam 1992.
3. Marine Turtles in the Wild, A 2000 WWF Species status report.
4. The story of a Sea Turtle, booklet produced under the framwork of the project “Marine Turtle Conservation and Management in Vietnam” carried out by WWF, IUCN Vietnam and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.
5. Kim Dong Public House, Gaudi’s Ocean- The story of the great sea turtle. Tajima Shinji, Hanoi, Vietnam 1996
6. Reports of Education for Nature- Vietnam (ENV)
7. WWF Indochina Marine Program Information.