Wednesday, August 21

Professional divers worried about methods used in tagging turtles

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A dead turtle with rope tied around its body was found off Mabul waters. – Picture courtesy of Semporna Professional Divers Association.

KOTA KINABALU: Professional divers based in Semporna are concerned with methods used in the process of tagging turtles in Mabul waters.

Semporna Professional Divers Association president Abdul Razak Ismail said a recent tagging process held in Mabul waters involved the same technique of using lift bag to bring out turtles from the sea to the surface for the same purpose that was carried out a few years ago.

“One of us had taken part in the research work a few years ago and took a video of the process.

“The footage showed a group of divers taking those turtles from water to surface (to be tagged on the boat) using a lift bag.

“For human, when they go diving, it is life threatening to shoot up to the water surface from underneath due to the effects of drastic change in pressure to body functions.

“It could be the same for those turtles,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Abdul Razak said dive masters and instructors in Mabul had also recently found dead turtles with rope tied around them, but were unsure whether it is related to research or any illegal capture of the species.

He said that regular divers in Mabul also noticed that turtles at the dive sites were no longer as “friendly” to divers as they were used to be but actually feared the presence of humans.

“Unlike those researchers who do their studies twice a year, they might not be aware of behavioural changes to those turtles.

“For those who dive here everyday, they realise that those turtles will swim away from human while the number of turtles has started to decline,” said Abdul Razak.

Abdul Razak also slammed the annual turtle marking activity in conjunction with Mabul Turtle Week that was held on April 29 to May 2.

He said that each time the program was held, the number of turtles would drop drastically for several weeks and they believed this was due to the harassment from turtle marking activities.

The association also questioned how would this yearly activity help protect and increase the number of turtles in its waters.

“Is the program with collaboration with local public higher education institution as an annual ‘one off’ program that seeks to profit from the sales package of volunteers?

“We have voiced this concern especially the methods used which can threaten marine life,” he said.

Abdul Razak also claimed that the association had received numerous concerns from the public including video clips of dead turtle with a rope still tied on its body.

“Are these dead turtles caused by such activity reported to the authorities? Turtles are fully protected species under the wildlife enactment and any activity that carries death to these turtles is a violation of the law.

“Disruption to this marine life can affect the tourism industry as turtles around the island are famous for its unique beauty.

“This gives travellers a chance to photograph with a turtle and this is one of the main attractions why Mabul is famous for diving.

“If such tagging activity continues without any concern to the safety of turtles, we will soon see a decline of turtle in our waters,” he said.

Meanwhile, Marine Research Foundation executive director Dr Nicolas J Pilche also backed the association’s concern by describing the lift bag method as actually fatal to the turtles.

“There is plenty of evidence and scientific literature that points to the method used can cause decompression sickness whereby the ‘bubbles’ or gas could not be released from the body.

“To ensure the turtle won’t be harmed or in danger, my suggestion is to bring the turtles slowly to the surface so they will not get the bends,” said Pilche who has been working on the species for 30 years.