MALAYSIA. Friends of the Earth plead for mistreated turtles

Malaysia's most vocal environmental protection group Oct. 28 called on the authorities to protect the giant leatherback turtle from joy-riding tourists when the rare species comes ashore to lay its eggs. Female turtles -- up to eight feet long and weighing 1,500 pounds -- heave themselves ashore on Rantau Abang beach in northeastern Terengganu state every year to lay up to 140 eggs in deep holes dug with their flippers.

The Malaysian branch of Friends of the Earth appealed to state and federal authorities to protect the turtles after only 225 appeared this year, compared with 613 in 1978.

``They are often harassed by tourists as well as by dollar-hungry villagers who capitalize on this act of nature . . .(by charging spectators),'' the group said in a statement.

``Fun-seeking tourists often climb piggyback. . . Powerful torchlights are shone into their eyes,'' the group added.

People also threw sand in the turtles' eyes when they failed to nest, pulled their flippers and kept them from returning to sea.

Some turtles choked to death on plastic bags in the sea that were mistaken for jellyfish. Others were mangled in fishing nets.

``These harassments must be put to an end,'' the group's statement finished.

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