Widespread ‘secret’ slaughter of endangered sea turtles despite ban; “very tasty” say killers

Sea turtles are being slaughtered en masse in the Maldives with no action taken by authorities to uphold local conservation laws or adhere to international agreements to protect the endangered species.

A photo of one such slaughter taken earlier this year and obtained by Minivan News shows dozens of dead sea turtles on a dhoni (local boat).

The Maldives is home to five species of sea turtles. Protecting the endangered species is crucial for maintaining environmental health and functioning – and by extension human health – in the Maldives. Without this keystone species the unique Maldivian ecosystems – ocean, reef, sea grass, and coasts – would cease to exist altogether.

Reports of sea turtle slaughter, hatchlings kept as pets, and nests destroyed for egg collection are commonplace in the Maldives despite the government recognising the problem through national legislation and international agreements.

Kakaaeriyadhoo killing

Approximately 90-180 sea turtles have been killed this year by locals from Kan’ditheemu island in Shaviyani Atoll, who have been traveling to the nearby uninhabited island of Kakaaeriyadhoo to slaughter the turtles and take their eggs, an informed source told Minivan News.

“This is a well known nesting island and every night a group is going and hunting the turtles. It is so obvious, every day since January one or two are killed,” the source stated.

“They wait for them to nest on the island, or go snorkeling to hunt them. Even on Kan’ditheemu sea turtles that come into the sea grass area are killed.

“The police know about this as well as the Kan’ditheemu Island Council, who say there is nothing they can do.

“More local awareness is needed and actions need to be taken by the authorities, like issuing fines and jail time. The lack of monitoring is challenge. Additionally, fishing vessels that participate in sea turtle slaughter should be held for a time as punishment,” the source suggested.

According to the source, the Shaviyani Atoll Council is not caring for the uninhabited islands and there is no longer a caretaker for Kakaaeriyadhoo.

One individual who admitted to killing sea turtles but would not provide his identity, told Minivan News why the sea turtle slaughter occurs.

“Sea turtles have very tasty fat and meat, but it’s very rare to get. There are not enough turtles in the sea,” the source said. “The killing is done very, very secretly.”

The source acknowledged the legal prohibitions against killing endangered sea turtles, but remains undeterred. He also explained this sentiment is common nationwide, so sea turtle killing often goes unreported.

“I don’t know why the government is not taking the issue very seriously. If the government doesn’t worry, then why should we worry? I’ve never heard of anyone prosecuted or arrested, ever,” the source declared.

“People don’t know how important turtles are for the environment. Even youth don’t know that’s the truth.

“People are not very aware of legal things. If anyone sees [or knows of] someone killing turtles, they won’t report it. Communities are very small and no one wants their friends, colleagues, cousins etc, to get arrested. You’d feel guilty,” the source added.

Government disavows knowledge: “No one complains legally”

Kan’ditheemu Island Council President Nasrulla told Minivan News that the sea turtle killing is not “directly an issue” because “no one has complained legally”.

“It’s a secret thing. People go at night time,” Nasrulla stated.

“No one has officially reported this. It’s all been rumors,” he added.

No reports have been filed according to Shaviyani Atoll Council President Moosa Fathy.

Fathy explained the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture is responsible for regulating uninhabited islands.

“They have the authority to give any island to a particular person for a long term lease or they can ask a caretaker to look after the island,” Fathy stated.

“Atoll councils have not been given the [uninhabited] islands in any atoll. It’s not our duty according to article 153 of the Decentralisation Act.

“The Attorney General has to do this within six months, but it’s been nearly three years now. The Local Government Authority and the Ministry of Finance and Treasury have to do a lot.

“We cannot lease to any person or change any agreements. Two or three years before an uninhabited island would be given to a caretaker, but those agreements are not valid now,” he added.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Ahmed Shafeeu told Minivan News that the ministry has not received any reports of sea turtle slaughter from the Kan’ditheemu Island Council or Shaviyani Atoll Council, but said he would look into the matter.

Shafeeu explained that in February 2012, the Fisheries Ministry handed over uninhabited island care to the atoll councils. The councils are expected to assign caretakers and look over leases issued by the ministry.

“It’s their responsibility to properly look after these islands. However, it’s not a requirement that someone always has to be stationed there,” Shafeeu stated.

“There are issues with atoll councils taking responsibility for uninhabited islands as per the law. They are reluctant because they have not been given the authority to lease these islands,” he added.

Shafeeu emphasised that anyone identified or suspected to be participating in sea turtle killing should be reported to the police, who should take action to enforce the law.

“Sea turtle capture and slaughter are unlawful – it’s completely forbidden. They are protected. It is a criminal offense and there are penalties for that.

“Any responsible authorities that receive any reports that come, need to attend to it immediately. Any responsible person can report directly to the police,” Shafeeu added.

In late 2012, 104 hatchling sea turtles were taken from Kakaaeriyadhoo in Shaviyani Atoll and sold to islanders on Kan’ditheemu.

Earlier in 2012, a marine biologist working in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve reported the discovery of the remains of a baby shark and endangered sea turtle barbecue on the uninhabited island of Funadhoo, one of the country’s 14 priority nesting beaches legally protected under Maldivian law.

In 2010, sea turtles were discovered dead on the beach of Laabadhoo island in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, cut open for their eggs and left to rot on the sand.

Culture of killing

Environmental conservationist and Kan’ditheemu resident Hassan Solah discussed the endemic problem of sea turtle slaughter with Minivan News.

“This is illegal, but no one is following the law. They kill the sea turtles for the body fat and eggs. All the meat is thrown away.”

The turtle fat and derived oil is believed to be an aphrodisiac that works similarly to erectile dysfunction drugs, such as viagra.

Solah explained this belief is common throughout the Maldives and the ‘aphrodisiac’ oil is referred to as ‘theyokundi’ or ‘velaakaleyya’.

Eggs are also taken from sea turtle nests or gutted from dead adult sea turtles and cooked in a similar fashion to chicken eggs. The eggs are used to make the dish ‘velaa folhi’, similar to quiche.

“It’s not a tradition to eat sea turtles. We grow up only eating tuna, garudhiya (fish soup eaten on rice), rihaakuru (fish boiled down into a thick paste), and curries are recent since they began incorporating spices from India and Sri Lanka,” stated Solah.

Conversely, a source who has participated in sea turtle slaughter explained there is a cultural history of killing turtles for their meat and fat-derived oil.

“The practice of killing sea turtles is very traditional in many ways. We eat the flesh and the fried fat,” the source stated.

“We also used to use the oil [derived from their fat] for lights in our homes. The sea turtle oil was previously put on dhonis (boats) to protect the wood from fungus.

“Island communities used to make a huge feast where everyone would eat together. People would catch six or seven turtles. This stopped around the 1980’s.

“There used to be a big store owned by the island chief. During that time if anyone caught a turtle they would have to give the oil to the shop,” the source added.

Some of these practices have stopped because “traditions change”, he said.

Crucial for Maldivian survival

Protecting endangered sea turtles is vital given the environmental pressures the Maldives already faces – which also amplify threats to turtles – such as extreme vulnerability to climate change impacts, declining fish stocks, as well as the lack of waste management and the resulting pollution on most islands.

“Sea turtles are a big part of the food chain. All species are sea grazers and keep the ocean in balance. They need to be protected and saved,” stated Solah.

“They eat jellyfish, which have become a huge problem in some parts of the world. Hawksbill turtles primarily live on the reef, while green turtles maintain the seagrass. Because sea turtles eat predators, this allows juvenile fish to grow and flourish. They also keep algae blooms in check,” he added.

Solah also explained that protecting sea turtles and leaving their nests untouched is essential for protecting coastal erosion.

“Turtles also support coastal ecosystems. When they lay their eggs, a few do not hatch. This is important for providing the shoreline with nutrients so trees are able to grow; their roots then hold the sand in place,” he said.

There is currently a nationwide ban on catching or killing sea turtles and under this moratorium 14 priority nesting beaches are protected, however collecting eggs is still permitted.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the Maldives has voiced its concern regarding the ongoing killing and capturing of protected species, such as sea turtles, and has urged these illegal activities stop immediately.

In March of this year, the country acceded to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This treaty aims to ensure the international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival and legally requires the Maldives to adopt domestic legislation to ensure national implementation.

The Maldives became a party to the Indian Ocean South-East Asian (IOSEA) Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding in July 2010. This international agreement seeks to conserve and replenish depleted marine turtle populations via an associated conservation and management plan that focuses on “reducing threats, conserving critical habitats, exchanging scientific data, increasing public awareness and participation, promoting regional cooperation, and seeking resources for implementation”.

The Maldives committed to the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1992, requiring the country maintain biodiversity and the conservation of endangered species. The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) has not been ratified.

Local tourism opportunities

Keeping these ecosystems health is vital to meet Maldivian subsistence needs, as well as maintain the fishing industry and attract tourists. Both sectors account for approximately two-thirds of Maldivian GDP.

“Sea turtles are protected and by keeping their populations up, more tourism profits can be gained. Every day tourists pay a lot of money to see the turtles. They will stop to visit a local island and spend money in local businesses for a full day trip,” stated Solah.

“Instead of killing sea turtles, turtle ‘points’ should be protected, so in the future it will become popular and many dive boats and safari boats will come.

“This is what happened Ari Atoll with whale sharks. Local islanders used to hunt the whale sharks, but now they have a daily ‘show’ for tourists that explains how they used to hunt the sharks, what tools they used, and it generates lots of money from tourist excursions,” Solah added.


30 thoughts on “Widespread ‘secret’ slaughter of endangered sea turtles despite ban; “very tasty” say killers”

  1. This article is very true. we have lots of issue like this here in Maldives!!!

    Some of the local safari operators are doing illegal spear fishing trips to Russian tourists.

    Also locals and some European safari operators dumping lots of garbage's to our lovely ocean!!!

    i hope one day Minivan news will contact me directly for more info....


  2. In a state where justice is at the mercy of the powerful, there can be anything and everything illegal being carried out!
    The Judiciary despite a young woman was over and over again proving was illegal was put in place and the whole system has been victimized and they are fiddling with everything, every where!
    A coup was brought about on 7th February, 2012 dislodging the elected president of the people! This chapter was closed with a CoNI report!
    The current Executive is illegal and are doing as an how they please!
    The lawmakers have their personal interest above people's interest they represent!
    Can someone tell me if the people catching all the turtles in the Maldives can be illegal?
    If all is balanced, people automatically will balance themselves!
    However, Minivan, thanks for the reporting.

  3. Its not widespread. I am also a true blooded Maldivian and i can guarantee 100% that its not widespread.

    Please don't spread lies to promote your news outlet.

  4. That turtle was murdered and then eaten!


    The animals and their welfare are good to keep in mind. Provided a certain level of basic human needs are fulfilled.

    We havent reached that limit yet. First talk about basic need to sleep in Male'. Basic need for some quiet and quality time with family. Time to promote family values.

    We dont have that by a long shot! You honestly think, i would give a sh!t about a turtle??

  5. The photo is obviously not real.

    Minivan has now officially become like the Sun or the Daily mail. But spreading lies hatred in a small community (note the timing after the flogging article) is highly irresponsible.

  6. This is very true and it's happening for a long time. The govt won't take any measures even if this is reported legally. I know, because I have reported it countless times. Nothing happened.

  7. This is simply a fact that proves the ignorance, narrow mind and nasty attitude of some maldivians....

    how can you help someone who cannot help himself? it's a matter of time when we would see the effects

  8. If the turtle was killed "Evves sharuthakaa nulaa" i do not see a problem. By the way was it a yellow turtle or a pink turtle that was killed. The colour really matters ...

  9. What do u Expect when venture out into the Chinese Tourism Market. They Pay handsomely for a dish of Turtle meat. Even Shark fishing has boomed since they opened doors for the Chinese.

  10. when maldivians cannot respect other maldivians and other expatriates....why would they respect sea turtles or any other sea creatures?

  11. ކޮބާ މައްސަލައަކީ ކަނޑުމަހާއި އެހެނިހެން ސީފުޑްވެސް ކަނީނު. އެވެސް ދިރޭ އެއްޗެއްސޭ. އެވެސް މަރައިގެންނޭ ކަނީ. މިދިވެހިރާއްޖޭގައި ހިއެއް ނުވޭ އެތަކެތި ނުކާ މީހަކު އުޅޭހެނެއް.

  12. I look forward (hopefully)to the day when some GOOD NEWS concerning The Maldives is reported..

  13. @Derek,
    You are obviously in the wrong place/time to find GOOD NEWS about Maldives.Minivan will keep writing negative stories about Maldives till their man (Anni) becomes president. Then they will get lazy and too busy to write anything at all. That's how they lost the original printed Minivan news back then.

    Anyways most of these negative stories about Maldives are spiced up to the level of blatant falsehood, just to promote the outlet.

  14. What do you expect from a load of barbarians. The Maldives used to be a good holiday destination but not any more. We are calling for all Europeans to boycott the Maldives - hope you don't miss the tourists too much!

  15. That photo is depressing. If I had a choice I wouldn't live here.

  16. @S Williams

    Europeans are not in a condition to boycott Maldivian tourism. Look at your own banking system and then judge others!!!

    And this story is spiced up for political gains! of course, people use animals for food and other uses,legally or illegally. look at the condition of whales and chimpanzees??!i do not see people trying to boycott tourism in these countries! When it comes to Muslims, then the boycotting starts!WHAT NERVE??!!

    World still waits for Japan to stop being apathetic about whaling

    Agency Moves to Retire Most Research Chimps

  17. MDP's agenda is to destroy Maldives economy just become they lodt power due to incompetence and ignorance, most of the unlawful activities including slaughter of turtles are a habit of MDP activists who dosent really work for a living the axed president Nasheed is allerged to be a drug addict who openly discuss to make marijunan and heroin lawful

  18. The slaughtering of the protected animals kills this biotope of the Maldivian sea and that is suicide on installments!

    Without the beautiful reefs and sea-animals and without the animals, however, nobody would spend so much money on a few deserted islands!

  19. The photo is 100% fake!

    As s Maldivian what i know is locals are very much against catching and killing turtles, the last i ate a turtle egg was 20 years ago.

    There is a limit even for lying and Minivan is going too far!

  20. "Abidh Ali on Mon, 1st Apr 2013 4:28 PM

    MDP’s agenda is to destroy Maldives economy just become they lodt power due to incompetence and ignorance, most of the unlawful activities including slaughter of turtles are a habit of MDP activists who dosent really work for a living the axed president Nasheed is allerged to be a drug addict who openly discuss to make marijunan and heroin lawful"

    YES!!! and they throw "cursed" roosters at their opponents ...

    Do YOU believe yourself what you´re writing here???

  21. People of Sh.Maroshi have slaughtered more turtles than anyone mentioned in this article. They go to nearby uninhabited islands like Hurasfaru, Nainfaru etc etc just to slaughter turtles and there is involvement of some members of Maroshi council.

  22. Dear Editor,
    The Maldives has an excellent reputation as a DOLPHIN SAFE tuna supplier worldwide.

    This slaughter of sea turtles could cause a problem for the export tuna industry if the Govt. does not take action.
    NO Dhoni that fishes tuna for export can be allowed to be involved in sea turtle kills. Any tuna dhoni that also kills sea turtles will automatically be banned from delivering tuna to any Maldives processor for tuna export.
    I ask the Fisheries Ministry to please enforce the laws and investigate this sea turtle kill.
    Mark Berman

  23. Funny how human being and shimy are so upset about their killing sprees.

    Like a criminal caught red-handed.

  24. actually you can buy a sea turtle eggs at the fish market for 6mvr to cook.the vendor said its tasty but i didn't buy & don't want to encourage buying this endangered species.if we want to save maldives from global warming save the environment,be responsible citizen.

  25. @Abdulla
    Read the heading of the story

    "....Widespread ‘secret’ slaughter of endangered sea turtles despite ban; “very tasty” say killers..."

    now take deep breath
    then THINK!

    Think why fishermen are just fishermen but somebody who caught a turtle is a KILLER.

    That's strange no? Turtle is also a kind of fish ennu? So why does one become a fisherman and another a killer?

  26. I have been waiting for this reported on media. thank you Minivan.
    ive always hated this. there is no greater show of stupidity than destroying your own environment and those that sustain it.

  27. This story is not about turtles, its about getting the power of abusing the uninhabited islands for the party affiliated corrupt council members, so that they can lease these islands to their "friends and party activists".

    Only 1% of the turtle population of the Indian Ocean nest in the Maldives. Millions of turtles breed on the extensive Malabar coast and the beaches of Pakistan, East Africa and Indonesia. Turtles are not herbivores. The hatch-lings head directly to the open ocean where they feed on mainly jellyfish and spend several years. Only once they are adults they return to the reefs and consume shellfish, crustaceans and other invertebrates and fish. Turtles and algal blooms have no relation what so ever. They eat Thalassia sea grass only to lubricate their digestive tracts. Further the turtles are not an essential specie in the food chain of the Maldives Reef system. We should be talking about the illegal collection of sea cucumbers by using scuba which was banned before turtles. And sea cucumbers, being bottom detrius feeders complete the food chain along with "nitrifying bacteria" and is 100 times more essential to the health of our reefs than turtles.

    Japan, Norway and Russia still do whaling and most European Countries are exploiting the endangered cod and other cold water fisheries.

    Minivan should stop vilifying the your own countrymen for political purposes and you always seems to play the Chinese card in every issue.


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