The Leatherback Turtle population is in decline and they are a vulnerable (VU) species according to the IUCN Red List. Their nesting had not been found on Thai coasts for over five years. But two years ago 20 nests were found along the beaches in Phuket and Phang Nga, which was a cause for celebration for officers working in the field. Professor Dr. Korakot Nganvongpanit, DVM, and the team from the Veterinary Biosciences Research Centre, along with the Department of Veterinary Biosciences and Veterinary Public Health and the CMU Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, collaborated with the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC), led by Director Dr. Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, to study the population and genetic structure of the leatherback turtle based on their nesting.
The Leatherback Turtle’s unique genetic characteristics signify that they are not biologically diverse and that that is one of the reasons for their meager natural reproduction. A question was raised by the PMBC team on how many female Leatherback Turtles had laid eggs on Phuket and Phang Nga coasts in the past two years. The need to predict the number of their population in the natural habitats on Thai coasts gave rise to the study of their population genetic structure, in which 149 tissue samples were collected from 14 nests on five beaches between 2018 – 2020, where hatchlings had died in their nests. Those samples were sent to Prof Korakot’s team for analysis. The methodology involves a genetic comparison of the maternally-transmitted mitochondrial parts in the control region of the D-loop. Having matching characters means that the hatchlings come from the same mother turtle. The findings show that eggs from the 14 nests came from three mother turtles and what is intriguing is that one came back for nesting in the subsequent year, contradicting the theory that they would return in three to five years.
The findings have given environmentalists great hope, as it is a sign that the marine ecosystem is gradually recovering. ‘Although we do not live close to the sea, we can help conserve nature by reducing plastic use and recycling it, as one of the main causes of marine animal deaths is plastic waste released into ocean waters. We can still play an indirect part in increasing the survival rates of animals,’ says Prof Korakot. The success of this study arose from a persistence in wanting to learn what is happening in nature. CMU recognizes the importance of marine resources, especially endangered species, and this research can serve as an outline for the management, education and conservation of marine resources, restoring the equilibrium of marine ecosystems.