November 7, 2007 / 8:04 AM / 12 years ago

Scientists to clean up home of Hanoi's giant turtle

HANOI (Reuters Life!) - A mystical giant turtle crawled out of a Hanoi lake this week to sunbathe, one of its longest recorded appearances in recent years, as scientists are on a mission to ensure more sightings in years to come.

A giant turtle is seen while sunbathing in an islet in Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi, November 5, 2007. A mystical giant turtle crawled out of a Hanoi lake this week to sunbathe, one of its longest recorded appearances in recent years. REUTERS/Stringer

People lined a path alongside the sunlit Lake of the Returned Sword in the heart of Hanoi to see the reptile, which has a special place in Vietnamese folklore and whose appearance some believe to be a portent of an extraordinary event.

But Vietnamese and German scientists say the turtle’s survival is at risk from centuries of industrial pollution and have designed a plan to clean up the lake, home to 142 species.

“The project is very feasible but we need to remember our first priority is to make sure the life of the Great Grand Turtle is not affected,” said zoologist Ha Dinh Duc, nicknamed “Professor Turtle” for his extensive research on the 2-meter (6 ft 7 in) long and 1.1-meter (3ft 7 in) wide turtle.

The 1 million euro ($1.46 million) clean-up would start this year with geological and chemical studies on the mud at different water levels and last until 2009, scientists said.

The legend told over the years to Vietnamese children, and tourists, is that 15th century Emperor Le Loi used a magic, divine sword to drive out Ming invaders from neighboring China.

A giant turtle emerged while Le Loi was boating on the lake and told him to return the sword to the Dragon King. The weapon shot from its sheath into the mouth of the turtle, which disappeared underwater.

Since then, the lake previously called Ho Luc Thuy or Green Water Lake, became known as Ho Hoan Kiem, or The Lake of the Returned Sword.

Seven years ago, Duc named the reptile, estimated to weigh about 200 kg (440 lb), Rafetus Leloi in honor of the emperor.

So far this year, the turtle has appeared 78 times compared with 58 times for all of last year, the professor said. It emerges more frequently between October and March.

The scientists said they would use mud-dredging technology, a submerged device called the SediTurtle, after a test run in another lake.

Additional reporting by Nguyen Nhat Lam

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