All About Green

An Urgent Call to Protect Green Turtles

Original text published in Sing Tao Daily “Green Forum” (22 October, 2018)
Author: Green Power
Green Turtle on the beach
Green Turtle

It is already approaching the end of October, when the annual restricted period at Sham Wan, Lamma Island, is about to expiring. Sham Wan is a regular nesting site of Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) in Hong Kong. The site is designated as a restricted area every summer, restricting access to the area in order to minimise disturbances to Green Turtles while they are nesting. However, so far there has not been any record of Green Turtles coming ashore this year. This could be the fifth consecutive year without Green Turtles nesting since 2013.

beach at Sham Wan
Sham Wan

Green Turtles are also known as Green Sea Turtles. Among all the eight species of sea turtles in the world, they are the only sea turtles known to have bred in Hong Kong. Since they are threatened by marine pollution and destructive fishing, Green Turtles have been classified by the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) as an endangered species.

The data shows that, in the 1960s and 1970s, there were records of Green Turtles nesting on many natural beaches in eastern Hong Kong. However, with constant urban development and destruction of coastal environment, Sham Wan, Lamma Island is now the only regular nesting site of Green Turtles in Hong Kong. More importantly, due to the environmental changes in the surrounding areas of Hong Kong, Sham Wan has become one of the few remaining nesting sites in southern China. On 3 June, 1999, the government designated Sham Wan as a “Site of Special Scientific Interest” (SSSI) in order to protect the area. The sandy beach of Sham Wan was also specified as a Restricted Area under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance. The restricted period is from 1 June to 31 October. However, the Restricted Area only includes the sandy beach; tourists and boats are not prohibited from entering the bay area.

Research indicates that Green Turtles mate on the beach where they were born in March or April every year. They come ashore to build nests and lay their eggs from May through October. They are very sensitive during this period, light pollution (including lights of boats) will affect their nesting behaviour. According to published information, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department released batches of baby sea turtles hatched from eggs laid at Sham Wan into the wild from 1993 to 2003. Since it takes 15 to 50 years for Green Turtles to mature and return to their natal beach to reproduce, it is very likely that some of these released baby sea turtles will soon return to Sham Wan to reproduce. In the beginning of this year, there were records of Green Turtles appearing in various areas of Hong Kong waters (unfortunately, there were a few dead turtles among them). These Green Turtles could be exactly those baby sea turtles that were born in Hong Kong over 10 years ago.

Several yachts moored at Sham Wan
During the breeding season of Green Turtles, there are still many water activities in the bay of Sham Wan, which obviously shows a lack of protection for Green Turtles.

Unfortunately, these Green Turtles did not come ashore to lay eggs in Sham Wan this year. Green Power and the Eco-Education and Resources Centre discovered that during Green Turtles’ reproduction period, there were numerous and frequent water activities in the bay. Since Green Turtles are very sensitive regarding their surrounding environment; if they were disturbed while coming ashore to lay eggs, they might choose to give up. In addition, the speedboats used for water activities may cause fatal injuries to sea turtles lingering near the bay.

In order to protect Hong Kong’s only nesting site of Green Turtles more effectively, we have surveyed the water activities in the Sham Wan area since 2013, and sent the data to the relevant departments. At the same time, we have continuously demanded that the government expand the Restricted Area for sea turtles in Sham Wan, covering the sea and sandy beach parts. This could protect the sea turtles more effectively while they are reproducing in the Sham Wan area, and prevent them being disturbed by human activities while mating and laying eggs.

In the most recent policy address, the government finally promised to expand the Restricted Area to neighbouring seas, covering the seas and sandy beach. But our demand to extend the Restricted Area’s closing time, i.e. changing from beginning in June as presently, to April every year, has not been granted. Moreover, we hope that the government can put more efforts in promoting the conservation of sea turtles, so that more people in Hong Kong may know about the precious Green Turtle. We hope people can understand the threats they are facing and protect their habitat and breeding ground. Also, we hope that if you find Green Turtles anywhere, please do not disturb them and contact the Agriculture and Fisheries Department immediately for proper record keeping and handling.