Sun, 05 Dec 2021

GUANGZHOU, June 8 (Xinhua) -- Sea turtle, a living fossil that has lived on Earth for hundreds of million years, now faces extinction.

In recent years, China has ramped up efforts to protect the reptile and the national sea turtle nature reserve in Huidong County is one such initiative.

Located in south China's Guangdong Province, the nature reserve has successfully bred turtles to increase their numbers and release them back to the wild.

Since April, eight captive sea turtles in the nature reserve, one of the remaining nesting sites for sea turtles in China, have laid more than 1,000 eggs during this year's nesting season, which will last until October.

"One turtle has laid three clutches of eggs in just over a month, one of which has 196 eggs, setting a record for the spawning number of captive turtles in the nature reserve," said Wang Shaofeng, director of the reserve administration.

EDGE OF EXTINCTION

The sea turtle has been around since the time of the dinosaurs, and generally has a lifespan of over 200 years. Each year during the nesting season, they migrate to their birthplace to mate and lay eggs after reaching sexual maturity at about 30 to 50 years old.

The population of wild sea turtles has been on the decline in recent years due to human activities, habitat loss, accidental captures and injuries, and illegal trade.

Since its establishment in 1985, the nature reserve has rescued wild sea turtles coming ashore. These turtles have laid more than 80,000 eggs, nearly 70,000 of which were successfully hatched. The nature reserve has also released over 60,000 sea turtles into the sea over the past decades.

Earlier this year, China adjusted its list of key protected wild animals, raising the protection level of sea turtles to level I.

"It is our responsibility to protect the nature reserve and preserve the species so as to slow down or even reverse the extinction trend of the ancient reptile," said Chen Hualing, with the reserve administration.

BREAKTHROUGH IN ARTIFICIAL BREEDING

In 2017, the nature reserve made a breakthrough in the fully artificial breeding method of sea turtles. Since then, the reserve has successfully induced female turtles to come ashore and lay more than 4,500 eggs, with over 2,500 baby turtles hatched.

In 2020, the reserve opened the country's first rewilding base to prepare captive sea turtles for their return to the wild. Prior to release, the turtles are trained on foraging in the ocean and fending for themselves.

In May, a total of 28 sea turtles returned to the nature reserve after eight months of rewilding training at the base. "These turtles, aged between two and three years, are robust and active. They will be released into the sea soon," said Xia Zhongrong, an engineer with the reserve.

Xia is now working on turtles' identification chips and genetic profiles. "With QR codes put on their shells, fishermen can scan the codes and report to the rescue center when they catch one by mistake," Xia said.

"We hope to use these techniques to better monitor living conditions and migratory routes of the sea turtles, which will help our future research and conservation," Xia added.

STRENGTHENING CONSERVATION EFFORTS

In a pool at the nature reserve, two turtles have been placed in separated "rooms." "The two turtles were mistakenly caught by local fishermen and brought here for medical treatment," said Li Manwen, a technician with the reserve.

Since 2001, the reserve has treated more than 1,000 injured wild sea turtles, of which 800 have been successfully cured and released into the sea.

To raise public awareness of sea turtle protection, Chinese authorities and non-governmental organizations have conducted various activities to spread awareness on sea turtle protection.

China has added more than 200,000 hectares of wetlands in the past five years in a bid to improve the marine ecological environment inhabited by sea turtles.

Under an ecological restoration project, more than 8 million mangroves have been planted in the Kaozhouyang bay, about 10 km north of the reserve, and another 50 hectares of mangroves will be added to enrich this "natural dining hall" of sea turtles.

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