'Brunei Bay can be safe haven for sea turtles'

'Brunei Bay can be safe haven for sea turtles'

Brunei has the potential to develop its own sea turtle sanctuary at Brunei Bay as part of its ecotourism industry, said a biologist from University Malaysia Terengganu (UMT).

In a recent interview with The Brunei Times, Dr Juanita Joseph said that the Brunei Bay, which spans an area of 250,000 acres, is a mega seaweed farm site for sea turtles and other marine life.

Dr Juanita said it could potentially lure tourists and marine enthusiasts from other countries, and that the Sultanate could emulate the Labuan Marine Park in malaysia by introducing tour package deals to watch sea turtles nesting and hatching there.

The biologist was speaking during a recent sea turtles biology and conservation workshop organised by the Wildlife Division.

Asked how the country can turn Brunei Bay into an ecotourism destination, Dr Juanita said that it has to be a "controlled tourism".

She urged Brunei to conduct scientific studies by getting expert advice from other countries.

"If Brunei wants to do ecotourism, it needs to get advice from the experts. If not controlled, it could damage the surrounding environment," she said.

"For example, during the start of the leatherback turtle ecotourism in Terengganu, they don't know that turtles are sensitive to lights. What happened next was that it disrupted the ecosystem of the sea turtles in the island.

"Brunei is new to marine… I urge Brunei to set rules and regulations, such as no flash photography during a turtle watching programme," she added.

Dr Juanita said that at Sabah's Turtle Islands, the government has turned one of the islands into a tourist attraction where tourists are charged to watch the turtles in the area. "In order to not disrupt the habitat, the numbers of tourists are limited to less than 60 people. They are charged around $2,000 per night as they are guaranteed to watch the nesting of the turtles," she said.

For the industry to thrive in Brunei, she said that that the country could encourage the locals to become tour operators.

Dr Juanita shared her recent experience in a boat ride to Tanjong Pelumpong at Brunei Bay, where she witnessed a group of Irrawadi Dolphins. "Tourists would pay a lot of money to watch these dophins," she added.

Tourists could also dive in the Brunei Bay to experience the marine life and environment during low tides, said the biologists.

Dr Juanita said that sea turtles are an indicator of a healthy ocean. "Green turtles eat sea grass and hawksbill turtles eat coral reefs. They become the fertiliser of the ocean bed to ensure fishes are able to lay eggs and as food for other predators.

"If there are a lot of sea turtles, it means the ecosystem is healthy. If there are less sea turtle, the food habitat is poor which lead to the declining number of seafood products," she said.

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