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Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Habitat use by green turtles (Chelonia mydas) nesting in Peninsular Malaysia: local and regional conservation implications

Jason Paul van de Merwe A B G , Kamarruddin Ibrahim C D , Shing Yip Lee A and Joan Margaret Whittier E F
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Griffith School of Environment and Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University (Gold Coast), Griffith University, QLD 4222, Australia.

B Present address: Centre for Marine Environmental Research and Innovative Technology, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China.

C Turtle and Marine Ecosystems Centre, Department of Fisheries Malaysia, Rantau Abang, Terengganu, Malaysia.

D Present address: Marine Park Department of Malaysia, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Federal Government Administration Centre, Putrajaya, Malaysia.

E School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD 4067, Australia.

F Present address: School of Medicine, Locked Bag 24, University of Tasmania, Sandy Bay, Tas. 7005, Australia.

G Corresponding author. Email:

Wildlife Research 36(7) 637-645
Submitted: 2 August 2009  Accepted: 2 October 2009   Published: 28 October 2009


Context. Many green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) populations are declining worldwide owing to their susceptibility to human impacts in the marine environment. Identifying the habitats used throughout different lifecycle stages is therefore important for managing the interactions between turtles and humans.

Aims. To identify the habitat utilisation of a C. mydas nesting population in Peninsular Malaysia during breeding, inter-nesting, migration and foraging lifecycle stages.

Methods. Satellite telemetry was used to track the movement of three C. mydas nesting females and one adult male from the Ma’Daerah rookery (Peninsular Malaysia).

Key results.The male and female turtles remained within 30 km of the nesting beach during the breeding and inter-nesting periods, which includes habitat beyond the ‘no trawl zone’ designed to protect turtles in this area. Following the breeding season, the tracked turtles migrated up to 1955 km to four different foraging grounds in Vietnam, Indonesia, Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo Malaysia. During foraging, turtles occupied areas threatened by human activities such as fishing and pollution.

Conclusions. The habitats used by the Ma’Daerah C. mydas population during breeding are outside current local protection zones and extend into unprotected international waters during migration and foraging.

Implications. Identification of habitats used by C. mydas populations is a critical element of management and conservation of this endangered, migratory species. Our study highlights the need to increase offshore protection around Ma’Daerah during the nesting season. Furthermore, this study has identified the countries within South-east Asia that Malaysia must cooperate with to ensure effective management of this C. mydas population. This information is particularly relevant to sea turtle conservation and management in regions like South-east Asia, where many coastal countries occupy a small geographical area.

Additional keywords: breeding, foraging, migration, satellite telemetry.


The Department of Fisheries, Malaysia provided logistical support for attaching transmitters to C. mydas in Peninsular Malaysia and supplied two of the PTT transmitters. Funding for the remaining two transmitters and all the Argos satellite data was supplied by an Earthwatch/Vodafone Foundation agreement. Thanks also to all Earthwatch field staff and volunteers on the ‘Green Turtles of Malaysia’ project who helped with data collection. Special thanks to Michael Coyne from SEATURTLE.ORG for supplying user information for the Satellite Tracking and Analysis Tool (STAT). All interactions with C. mydas were carried out in accordance with protocols approved by the Griffith University Animal Ethics Committee (approval number: EAS/04/04). Finally, thanks to the reviewers that provided comments and suggestions that helped improve the quality of this manuscript.


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