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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 July 2007, 03:27 GMT 04:27 UK
Experts seek to save rare turtle
By Jonathan Kent
BBC News, Kuala Lumpur

A leatherback turtle (Image: Matthew Godfrey)
Leatherback turtle numbers are falling in Terengganu
Conservationists and scientists are meeting in Malaysia to hatch a plan to save one of the world's most critically endangered sea creatures.

Experts say there are fewer than 5,000 leatherback turtles left, but with swift action they believe that their decline can be reversed.

The meeting's organisers say there is a certain irony in their choice of venue.

Terengganu on Malaysia's east coast was once home to one of the world's largest leatherback turtle nesting sites.

Tens of thousands would come ashore each year to lay their eggs.

But no more. Numbers are so low that the state has dropped the turtle as its symbol.

The creatures have fallen prey to humans who either raid their nests for eggs or who catch them in fishing nets at sea.

Funding needed

Peter Dutton, the head of a US government marine turtle research programme, says it is a critical time for the leatherback.

He wants to see more action to protect their nests.

Scientists have already identified the most critical nesting sites and hope that this meeting will decide how best to put into action a plan to save them.

There is broad agreement that the leatherbacks' decline can yet be stemmed.

However, campaigners say that without reliable funding for conservation programmes, the task of ensuring the survival of the largest of the world's turtle species will be that much more difficult.

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