Endangered Sea Turtles Saved in Bali
Denpasar. Police in Bali have arrested a boat captain and seized a shipment of 87 live green sea turtles being smuggled into the resort island from Sulawesi.
The boat, KM Cahaya Rahmat, was seized by maritime police about nine nautical miles off Bali’s east coast shortly after noon on Wednesday.
The turtles, all believed to be more than 50 years old and weighing around 100 kilograms each, were found hidden in a hold beneath the boat’s deck.
The boat was towed to shore, and the turtles released back into the sea from Kuta Beach on Thursday, where the authorities had to be helped by tourists to carry the meter-long animals to the water’s edge.
Bali Police Chief Insp. Gen. Hadiatmoko said the boat’s captain, Habong, had been arrested and five crew members were released after questioning.
He said Habong had been charged under the 1990 Natural Resources Conservation Law, for which he could face up to five years in prison and be fined Rp 100 million ($11,000).
Hadiatmoko said police were now looking into whether the boat was part of an organized syndicate that was smuggling the endangered turtles.
“Each of the turtles could have fetched between Rp 4 million and Rp 5 million,” he said.
Habong, meanwhile, admitted to bringing the turtles to Bali to sell them. “I brought them here to sell because I knew that they’re a hot commodity in Bali and I would have made a lot of money,” he said.
He claimed he had caught all 87 turtles over a six-day period by trawling for them in the waters around the Wakatobi islands, located off Southeast Sulawesi, before making the 11-day voyage to Bali to sell them.
“I was just trying to make a living,” he said. “If I’d been more fortunate, I would have gotten away with it.”
Habong added it was the first time he had attempted to smuggle turtles into Bali.
While most of the turtles were released back into the sea, four were sent to the Bali Natural Resources Conservation Agency’s sanctuary on Serangan Island to recover from injuries.
“As for the ones we released, we’ll be monitoring them for the next few days to ensure they aren’t picked up by more fishermen or attacked by predators,” said Endang HS, a conservation agency official.
Meanwhile, ProFauna, a nongovernmental wildlife group, said the seizure indicated the illegal trade in sea turtles was thriving despite an official ban.
I Wayan Wiradnyana, coordinator of ProFauna Bali’s Green Turtle Campaign, said most of the 87 turtles seized were females, and their loss would have severely impacted the survival of the species.
“They were all of mating age, and were probably caught in their traditional mating grounds,” he said.
Green turtles were once commonly used in ritual sacrifices across the predominantly Hindu island, and their meat is considered a traditional Balinese delicacy.
In recent years, however, there has been a shift toward symbolic sacrifices where the animals are released alive into the sea.
But continued high demand has driven the trade underground, with several smuggling attempts being foiled in the past few years.
From Jakarta Globe