Three royal turtle nests containing 51 eggs have been found in Koh Kong province’s Sre Ambel district.
The discovery was made by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), fisheries administration officials, and conservationists from the local community.
The eggs were found when fishermen in the area saw turtle footprints and reported their findings to fisheries administration officials and the WCS.
The eggs are now in the care of experts, said WCS country director Ken Serey Rotha. Once the turtles are able to feed themselves, they will be released near the Sre Ambel creek, he said.
He noted that the number of turtle nests in the area has increased notably following a ban on sand dredging operations in Sre Ambel.
In July 2017, the Ministry of Mines and Energy issued a circular prohibiting sand dredging in the Sre Ambel creek system.
Likewise, a sub-decree by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries designated Sre Ambel creek system as a conservation area for royal turtles and Siamese crocodiles (Crocodylus siamensis).
“Now that sand dredging has been banned in this area, turtles are reproducing,” said Serey Rotha.
“I don’t oppose development, but it is important to balance it with conservation,” he said.
Fisheries Conservation Department deputy director In Hul said his team has been working with WCS since 2000. He said they find one or two turtle nests per year on average.
The discovery this week indicates that the number of turtles in the creek is increasing, he added. “Experts are paying attention to the conservation of our natural resources.
“In the past, it was hard to find any nests because sand dredging operations affected the fertility of the turtles,” Hul said.
Royal turtles, whose scientific name is Batagur affinis, were once thought to be extinct, but in 2000, the Koh Kong Fisheries Administration and WCS found specimens along the Sre Ambel creek.
In 2001, the Fisheries Administration and WCS organised a nest protection programme. To find and protect the nests, they recruited former royal turtle egg collectors.
The royal turtle was named Cambodia’s national reptile in 2005. The animal is native to Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Their global population is now less than 500.
It is illegal to collect, sell or cook royal turtle eggs in Cambodia.