Scientists and conservationists called on Pacific countries Friday to step up efforts to protect leatherback turtles that are on the brink of extinction.
About 95 percent of the giant turtles have vanished in the past 20 years because of human activities such as egg poaching, encroachment of nesting beaches, and hunting, said a statement released after a turtle conservation conference.
Researchers estimate only 5,000 leatherback turtles - which can weigh up to a ton - are left in the Pacific, compared to more than 90,000 in 1980.
"Protecting nesting habitats and nests is a simple and necessary condition, as well as the most cost-effective way to ensure the long-term survivability of leatherbacks," the statement said.
International scientists, conservationists, economists and policy-makers attended the three-day conference in Malaysia's eastern state of Terengganu to find ways to stop the leatherback population from becoming extinct.
As turtles are migratory animals, they urged regional governments to cooperate to boost hatchling production by protecting turtle nests.
Six countries in particular in the region - Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Vietnam and Malaysia - must act to protect the turtles, the statement said.
Peter Dutton, who heads a U.S. government-sponsored turtle research program, said villagers at nesting sites - especially in Indonesia and the Solomon Islands - should be encouraged to protect turtle eggs from predators by patrolling beaches and burying eggs in protected areas.
"The potential for recovery is there but the clock is ticking," he said.