Tuesday, June 25

Another merciless killing of sea turtles in Sabah

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Are dead sea turtles tied with nylon rope or fishing net?

KOTA KINABALU: Another merciless killing of sea turtle has been detected, this time in the islands of Semporna after 50 dead sea turtles were found in Pulau Tiga, Kudat.

A Fisheries Department staff in Semporna district was on his way home on Tuesday when he saw four dead sea turtles floating at the sea between Bum-Bum Island and Kulapuan Island. He then took pictures and posted on his Facebook.

James Alin from the School of Business and Economics, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, said a report had been made by WWF-Malaysia Semporna team and the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) was investigating the case.

However, he suspected the competency of Wildlife Department.

“Do we have to wait for the SWD to complete their investigation to come up with the list of usual suspects?

“Top of list is the seaweed farmers. The re-occurrence of conflict between sea turtle (‘Bokko’ to the islanders) and the seaweed farmers has been recorded since 1990s. The authorities were in denial while conservation groups prefer to spread a romantic view that the islanders do not harm sea turtles. They even come up with a nonsense like the sea gypsies have strong taboo on harming the sea turtles. The Muslim islanders do not eat sea turtle meat so they say, but they love sea turtle eggs,” he said in a statement yesterday.

James pointed out that it is not rare for the islanders who commute daily between Bum Bum Island and Semporna town to see sea turtles in the areas adjacent to Tun Mustapha Marine Park. These areas have been the favorite foraging habitat of Green Turtles long before the boom in seaweed farming. Sea turtle is a pest to seaweed farming; they can destroy the entire seaweed farm overnight.

“The truth is this; seaweed farmers are fed up complaining about it and if they can, will definitely take revenge by harming the animal.

The next usual suspect are the artisanal fishermen. Sea turtles are known to forage at the coral reef and sea grasses areas where artisanal fishing is likely to take place. Sea turtle caught in any type of fishing net will drown. When that happens, fishermen usually will dispose of the carcass, cut the net, tie the turtle and drag it away from their fishing ground. Who is there to find out when most fishing activities are done at midnight until early morning?” he said.

James added the third usual suspect are the fishing vessels which are taking advantage of richness of our sea and non-existent of enforcement by SWD.

“Some fishing vessels are poaching endangered, charismatic and migratory marine species like sea turtle, Dugong, Dolphin or whale shark. The crews of these vessels with the Flag of Convenience are Vietnamese or Chinese or Indonesian. They are given license to do deep sea fishing or long line (by the Federal Fisheries Department). If they are caught encroaching into coastal areas or in possession of protected species, they too will dispose of the evidence by throwing it to the sea. The local owners of this joint venture will declare that they did not authorize the illegal activities,” he said.

“What is the probability of SWD solving this case? Zero! If we look at how they handled the case of 50 dead sea turtles in Pulau Tiga, Kudat. A week after my report appeared on social media and online news portal, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment made a press statement denying my earlier report.

“He said the enforcement agencies did not receive any reports from local people about the dead turtles.

“Later on the permanent secretary for the minister invited me to a special meeting attended by the enforcement agencies. During the meeting, the Maritime Agency admitted they knew about the sea turtle killing field in Pulau Tiga a few months before my field visit. The maritime officer showed us photos and announced their investigation was not conclusive (no one got arrested),” he added.

James claimed the SWD official was not only late coming to the meeting but also angry with him for not consulting his department before writing to the media.

“Furthermore, he said that his department is far way from Kudat and his office does not have speedboat to go the island. So much for his lame excuse, the next day SWD and Sabah Parks sent an investigative team to Pulau Tiga.”

He also revealed one more reason why SWD will never solve the case of dead turtles in Semporna.

“At the beginning of that meeting I have shown slides of sea turtle kept alive inside a pen (fish cage) in Balambangan island, I asked if any of the enforcement agencies interested to arrest the owner. None of them seem to be interested!” claimed James.