Malaysia plans to clone rare turtle

In a move that will be of interest to conservationists in the Cayman Islands, Malaysia plans to spend $9 million trying to clone green sea turtles, with plans to clone leatherback turtles if successful.

The cloning attempt is a desperate last-ditch attempt to save Malaysia’s leatherback turtle population, which has plummeted in the last half century because of overfishing in the Atlantic, and because of a local penchant for eating leatherback eggs.

Scientists plan to build expertise trying to clone the smaller, more abundant green sea turtle, before moving onto leatherback turtles. If successful, it will be the first time a reptile has been cloned.

However, the plan has come in for criticism from many scientists, who said the plan was unlikely to succeed and the money would be better spent on practical conservation measures. Others worried for the health of a cloned turtle and their ability to survive diseases compared with genetically different turtles.

The plan comes at a time when the Department of Environment in the Cayman Islands is warning that nesting green sea turtle populations are critically endangered.

Hawksbill and leatherback turtles, once known to have nested in the Cayman Islands, appear to have become locally extinct, the DoE said last week.

Capable of growing up to one ton, leatherback turtles dive deeper and travel further than any other turtle. One of the most ancient reptiles, they are thought to have been around for 75 million years with their ancestors said to have once swum with dinosaurs.

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