S'pore's first turtle hatchery opens in marine park

Hatchlings at the incubation sandpit area (above), and being released by Bright Kids School House children and Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee (right), at the hatchery's launch yesterday.
Hatchlings at the incubation sandpit area, and being released by Bright Kids School House children and Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee (above), at the hatchery's launch yesterday.ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI
Hatchlings at the incubation sandpit area (above), and being released by Bright Kids School House children and Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee (right), at the hatchery's launch yesterday.
Hatchlings at the incubation sandpit area (above), and being released by Bright Kids School House children and Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee, at the hatchery's launch yesterday.ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI

Sisters' Islands facility will let conservationists better protect rare turtles increasingly seen here

The Republic's first turtle hatchery opened at the Sisters' Islands Marine Park yesterday, allowing conservationists to better protect rare sea turtles which have been increasingly sighted here.

The National Park Board's (NParks) Dr Karenne Tun said 38 nests have been recorded on Singapore's shores this nesting season, which lasts from around May to October. There are between 120 and 180 eggs in each nest.

She added that the increased sightings were the results of the turtle management programme launched in 2016, and that more data will be needed to form clear population trends.

By chance, 16 hawksbill turtles hatched at the facility on the morning of the launch. They were later released into the sea.

The hatchery comprises two sections: an incubation sand pit area, where trained volunteers and staff take care of eggs, and a turtle field station that provides volunteer training, educational and research programmes, and other hatchery-related activities.

NParks said the facility is located on Small Sister's Island because it sits between East Coast Park and other Southern Islands like Lazarus Island and Kusu Island, the two areas where most turtle nesting activities have been recorded since 2005.

Staff and volunteers will transport eggs found across Singapore to the incubation sandpit if their original sites are not suitable, said Dr Tun, who is the Director for Coastal and Marine at the National Biodiversity Centre.

At other sites, turtles may lay their nests in places with high human footfall that could threaten the eggs.

The nesting site at the hatchery uses high-tech systems such as a Bluetooth water level detector that can tell if seawater is entering the nests; a temperature sensor; and a motion trigger camera that can tell when the turtles are emerging from the sand.

The incubation area consists of three metal cages that protect the eggs from predators, and they can hold up to four nests each.

A hawksbill turtle, which laid 99 eggs on Sept 2 on a Sisters' Island beach, has had its nest relocated to one of the cages. The eggs are due to hatch around Oct 26.

Speaking at the launch, Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said: "Aside from already being a popular nesting spot, Small Sister's Island is a protected area within the Sisters' Islands Marine Park that is zoned for conservation and research.

"This limits the disturbance to the nests caused by human traffic and light pollution. It also helps to maximise the number of hatchlings that are able to make it out to sea."

Singapore is home to two species of turtles. The hawksbill turtle, which is most commonly seen around the coasts, is critically endangered. The green turtle, much less encountered, is endangered.

NParks already monitors the various nests around the country, such as the one where eggs hatched on Pulau Satumu last Tuesday, but it said the public will be able to learn how to take care of these nests and eggs at the hatchery through a volunteer training programme.

Called the Biodiversity Beach Patrol, it will teach participants how to protect nesting turtles and how to move eggs safely, for instance.

Volunteer Lisa Lim, 48, was at the hatchery's launch on Saturday and prepared the baby turtles for their maiden journey into the sea.

"Many people don't think that Singapore has sea turtles, but volunteering gives you the chance to see them and really understand what we have," said the science teacher, who volunteers weekly.

NParks will announce new training dates by the end of 2018, but those interested in the Biodiversity Beach Patrol can read more here: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/parks-and-nature-rese...

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 30, 2018, with the headline 'S'pore's first turtle hatchery opens in marine park'. Print Edition | Subscribe