updated 1/16/2008 9:01:48 AM ET 2008-01-16T14:01:48

At least 20 endangered sea turtles have washed up dead along the southern Bangladesh coast over the last week, an official said Wednesday.

The olive ridley turtles — ranging from 90-130 pounds — were found dead on Monday and Tuesday, and more were reportedly found on other parts of the sandy coast, said government conservation official M.A. Hannan.

Pollution and the use of illegal nets by fishermen near the shoreline were believed responsible for the deaths in Cox's Bazar district, but conservationists were investigating, he said.

Olive ridleys, the smallest of all sea turtles, are endangered. They come ashore during September to March to lay eggs along Bangladesh's coast, Hannan said.

Last year, several hundred of the turtles died along the same coast, officials said.

Ainun Nishat, local head of the Geneva-based World Conservation Union, said the government should focus on informing fishermen how to properly release turtles caught in their nets.

"We can prevent most of the deaths of the turtles if the fishermen are aware enough," Nishat told The Associated Press by phone.

The government has launched a conservation project with the help of the United Nations Development Program to protect turtle eggs on beaches. "We have already collected more than 1,500 eggs for breeding this year," said Hannan.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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