Local environmental NGOs Ecocare and Bluepeace have condemned images circulating on social media showing a turtle being cut in half for its eggs and meat.
Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and police are now investigating the pictures.
Ecocare has demanded “immediate action from relevant authorities to stop such atrocities against protected marine species in the country”, in a statement which also said the NGO was “outraged by the lack of adequate enforcement measures in place”.
The pictures which were shared on Facebook show a group of people cutting open an adult sea turtle and extracting its eggs and meat. Local media outlet Sun Online has reported that the pictures were taken on the island of Maalhos in Alif Alif Atoll.
Maalhos Island Council has expressed concern over the incident but has said it was not aware that the pictures originated from the island.
Sun reported council Vice President Ahmed Sameeh as saying that it was common for islanders to hunt turtles and that the council has repeatedly requested citizens to stop.
Bluepeace Executive Director Rilwan Ali told Minivan News that the main obstruction to preventing such instances was poor institutional coordination between the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture and the EPA.
“The biggest problem is that turtle conservation comes under the fisheries law which is implemented by the fisheries ministry. The ministry has to share its resources with the EPA so that these kinds of events can be prevented,” said Rilwan.
Speaking on behalf the EPA, Director General Ibrahim Naeem said that these kinds of events could have a negative impact on the tourism of the country as well as long term effects on the economy, while highlighting the need for stricter punishments for such environmental crimes.
According to the fisheries regulations, the “catching, fishing, collecting or killing” of sea turtles is illegal throughout the country. The collection of sea turtles and eggs is also illegal, but only in 14 of the country’s 1,192 islands.
The current moratorium is set to last until 2016 thoug reports of turtle slaughter persist. Earlier this year, one source estimated that up to 180 turtles were killed from a single island in Shaviyani Atoll in 2013.
“There 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,” said the informed source. “They wait for them to nest on the island, or go snorkeling to hunt them.”
While speaking to Minivan News in April this year, Sam Hope – Marine Discovery Centre Manager at Four Seasons Kuda Huraa – said that the biggest threat to turtles is egg collection and trade.
Meanwhile, turtle conservation expert Dr Agnese Mancini has reported a decline in the population of the majority of turtle species found in the Maldives.
Collecting turtle eggs is still legal and will remain so until at least 2015, according to government regulations, despite recent scientific reports stating that the population of the majority of turtle species is declining.
“We have a moratorium that will end at 2015, then we will look at other measures that we have to take,” explained Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee.
With turtle population numbers declining and some species at serious risk of complete extinction, organisations are working hard to protect turtles from further degradation at the hand of both humans and the environment.
The biggest threat to turtles, according to Sam Hope – Marine Discovery Centre Manager at Four Seasons Kuda Huraa – is egg collection and trade.
“There is a ban on catching and killing turtles in the Maldives, and that has been in places since June 1995, however, there isn’t a ban on egg collection,” stated Hope.
According to the fisheries regulations, the” catching, fishing, collecting or killing” of sea turtles is illegal across the entire country. The collection of sea turtles and eggs is also illegal say the regulations, but this is only applicable to 14 islands out of a possible 1,192.
The continuing secret slaughter of turtles was demonstrated last year after photographic evidence the practice emerged, showing dozens of dead sea turtles loaded onto a dhoni.
More recently, an article by Dr Agnese Mancini – an expert on turtle conservation – reported a decline in the population of the majority of turtle species found in the Maldives.
Published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the report established that while quantitative data on turtle numbers is scattered, the data collected recently from the entire Indian Ocean indicates negative trends in population numbers for all of the species, barring the Olive Ridley species.
Despite these findings, the laws governing the collection of turtle eggs remains the same and will do until at least 2015, stated Dr Shainee.
“Before that we will start planning for the next steps, and increasing our understanding – we will try and get stakeholders on board,” he said.
When asked if he thought the ban on egg collection should cover all islands of the Maldives, Shainee said that all islands would be protected, but that efforts needed to be focused.
“The rest of the islands we will do, but if they are not nesting islands there’s no point in unnecessarily restricting. For those areas that we know, we want to protect.”
In response to some of these threats, Four Seasons has teamed up with local environmental agency Seamarc to implement a number of valuable conservation programmes across the Maldives – based from their two on-site Marine Discovery Centres.
Among the pair’s successful projects is the ‘Head Start’ programme run from the Kuda Huraa resort – a fledgling project which has shown great potential to help increase the local turtle population.
The likelihood of turtle hatchlings surviving is estimated to be around 150:1, and so marine biologists have been hand-rearing a select few young turtles at the Marine Conservation Centre in order to give them a greater chance of survival.
“Where we do get a hatchling nest, we allow all of them to run down to the sea – because that’s very important for their development – but when they reach the sea we collect just two for our Head Start programme,” explained Hope.
“The Head Start programme is aiming to provide a safe environment so those turtles can go through the early stages of development and avoid those early stages of danger.”
“Because turtles have got a pretty rough deal- anything from ants to rats, cats, seabirds, fish and sharks- its really tough when you’re only 4-5 inches long with no defence techniques at all -apart from looking incredibly cute.”
“So we bring them back here, place them into our pools where we do a weekly check up where we weigh and measure them. The weight is very important to their health, and we’re working hard to understand the sea turtle dietary requirements,” Hope continued.
“When the Head Start gets to 18cm – which takes about 13 months – we put a satellite tracker on their back and we send them out into the big blue. We download from the satellite every two days, and download the data into google maps.”
The tags are semi-permanent, meaning the researchers can see how far the turtles have travelled for up to 10 months.
To date, the Head Start programme has reared and released 37 turtles, with 16 tagged for satellite tracking.
There are a number of resorts which are contributing valuable work to environmental conservation, but in order to push this movement to the next level, Hope notes that the links between resorts and local communities need to be stronger.
“There needs to be more trust between resorts and local communities” he states. “What would really benefit the movement is a bottom up management, led by a greater amount of community work and community led projects.”
Regarding the laws against turtle egg collection, Hope said that it was unlikely all islands are being used for turtle nesting, but admitted there was a dearth of local knowledge which Seamarc was attempting to address with local surveys and community assessments.
“Turtles sometimes switch nesting beaches if the beach condition becomes degraded which means that they may start using unprotected islands in the future if they are not already. Before we can decide on scientific policy we require scientific fact on which we can base decisions.”
“It is our hope that our work will shed more light on the extent of turtle nesting activities in order to further protect these endangered species.”
“Call it CSI Turtle. In the Maldives, at the heart of the Indian Ocean, scores of turtles are being found with gashed or ripped-off flippers and deep scars in their shells. The cause is clear: the turtles are becoming ensnared in “ghost” fishing nets that have either have been lost or dumped,” reports Damian Carrington for the UK-based Guardian newspaper.
“The turtles that don’t drown are then attacked mercilessly by accomplices. The stumps of the turtles’ flippers show clear signs of being ripped off by sharks, while the shell damage points to a sharp implement: the beaks of birds and the claws of crabs. The nets themselves cut through the turtle’s flesh like cheesewire, leaving deep wounds.
But what the investigation has not yet established are the culprits behind the crime and the motive.
‘It’s OK to keep finding these turtles and keep stitching them up, but it’s just going to keep happening. So we need to try to find out why the nets are being lost,’ says Dr Jill Hudgins, a scientist from the Seamarc consultancy and employed by the Four Seasons resort on Landaa Giraavaru island.
The turtles are the Olive Ridley variety, which live in the open ocean, not the atolls and lagoons of the Maldives, and Maldivian fishermen don’t use nets, pointing the investigation abroad.
Hudgins’ team has now compiled a database of more than 40 net types, detailing the mesh size and the twine diameter, as well as the types of floats attached and other data like the labels on debris trapped in the net such as plastic bottles.
The evidence all points to trawler nets floating in from India and Sri Lanka, and a recent breakthrough was finding a net manufacturer’s label: Garware, an Indian company. Hudgins has now sent images of the nets and severely injured turtles to the company and awaits their reply.
‘We want to scare them a bit,’ she says, and then get their help in finding solutions.”
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts CEO Katie Taylor yesterday received two prestigious Conde’ Nast World Savers Awards, on behalf of the company’s resorts in the Maldives.
Four Seasons Kuda Huraa and Landu Giraavaru resorts have been awarded the Conde’ Nast World Savers Awards in the categories of ‘Wildlife Conservation’, as well as the overall ‘Doing it all’ award.
“It’s in Four Seasons’ DNA to take steps to support the local community and environment in every destination where we operate; our social and environmental efforts in the Maldives date back to 1998,” said Regional Vice President of Four Seasons Resorts Maldives, Armando Kraenzlin.
Four Seasons Maldives also came runner up in the ‘Education’ category, one of six areas of social responsibility judged by an independent panel, which also include ‘Preservation (Environment and Cultural)’, ‘Health Initiatives’ and ‘Poverty Relief’.
A record 111 applications which were received this year for the luxury travel magazine’s awards, which are now in their sixth year.
A press release from Four Seasons explained that the company’s coral reef regeneration project, now in its 15th year, had become one of the most successful in the world.
The project started after 1998’s major El Niño–event destroyed most of the country’s shallow reef coral and has been assisted by marine consulting firm Seamarc since 2004.
Four Seasons also runs a Hospitality Apprenticeship Scheme in the Maldives which this year will offer 50 young Maldivians a year’s vocational training in food and beverage preparation, service, maritime transport, housekeeping and guest services, PADI dive master and water sports.
The program, which has been operating for a decade, is open to young Maldivians aged 17-20, with O-level certifications and has seen more 265 young Maldivians graduate, said the company’s release.
Earlier this year Four Seasons Kuda Huraa worked with the local community of neighbouring Bodu Huraa and pest control consultant Trudy Rilling-Collins to introduce sustainable and environmentally-friendly mosquito control procedures.
Four Seasons stated that they had also contributed to projects involving two resort water-bottling plants, plant nurseries, local education and awareness outreach programs, health initiatives in support of local islands, support for local artisans, teachers and the Manta Trust charity.
Whilst the company was receiving its awards at the Lincoln Center in New York, Four Seasons Kuda Huraa were conducting a climate change workshop focusing on coral reefs and tourism, hosted by Seamarc marine biologist Patrik Svensson.
“Moving forward, the team at Four Seasons Resort Landaa Giraavaru is committed to working closely with local communities and agencies to ensure that the Baa Atoll World Biosphere becomes a world-class example of its kind, while at Kuda Huraa, the focus is very much on continuing to develop the Maldivian Sea Turtle Conservation Programme,” continued the release.
Earlier this week, Sylvia Jagerroos – a marine biologist working with Four Season’s partner Seamarc – discovered a dismembered turtle on the uninhabited island of Funadhoo in Baa Atoll, one of the country’s 14 priority nesting beaches legally protected under Maldivian law.
A marine biologist working in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve has 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.
Marine biologist with local environmental consultancy Seamarc, Sylvia Jagerroos, was participating in a beach clean up on August 24 with local people when the group came across the scene.
“We had removed fishing lines, nets, and other marine debris and of course all the garbage from the beach. This consisted mainly of plastic bottles, and that day we found many red bull cans,” she said.
The group then discovered the slaughtered remains of a large, one metre adult nesting green turtle and 2-3 newborn lemon sharks, “still smoking on the barbecue”, surrounded by smashed eggshells.
“We found where the killing took place, there was a lot of blood in the sand, and maybe what was the trace of the turtle crawling to try and nest. I don´t know if she was killed before or after the nesting. I didn’t find any nest, so if there was one then probably all the eggs were eaten already,” Jagerroos said.
“I went snorkeling and found the remains of the turtle in the nearby waters, including the head. Some bones and flippers, were discarded a couple of meters from the barbecue. I also found the remains of baby lemon sharks on the barbecue. The lemon sharks was a newborn sized only around 50-60 cm, the meat had been removed and eaten. My theory is that they saw the green turtle nesting and killed her immediately, while slaughtering and throwing in the pieces in the ocean. The baby sharks were attracted to the smell and since they swim in very shallow waters it’s a piece of cake to catch them.”
Jagerroos noted that the Maldives had proclaimed itself the world’s second shark sanctuary in March 2009.
“For a marine biologist to find a juvenile sickle fin lemon shark on the grill when this creature is listed as “Vulnerable on the red list” with the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and is already extinct in many nearby countries, hurts,” she said.
The catching and consumption of turtles is banned across the Maldives, and turtles – together with many other species – are especially protected in the biosphere reserve.
However turtle eggs are considered a local delicacy and can fetch up to MVR 10 each – a single nest can contain between 100-200. The practice is generally not illegal, but is prohibited on the country’s nesting islands.
Marine biologists working on resorts in the atoll have also privately complained of boatloads of local poachers sneaking onto the islands at night without lights or noisy engines, after hearing of the discovery of a nest of eggs. In some instances, resorts have been forced to post security guards to protect the nests from poachers.
Baa Atoll was in June 2011 added to the UN body’s global list of biosphere reserves after five years of lobbying by the government, placing it in the company of world famous sites such as the Komodo in Indonesia, Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) in Australia and the Galapagos Islands.
The Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve was officially launched alongside with Baa Atoll Conservation Fund by President Mohamed Waheed in July 2012 at a ceremony in the atoll’s capital of Eydhafushi. At the ceremony, the UNDP presented a cheque for US$250,000 as a contribution to the fund, on behalf of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
Jagerroos said the team had called the Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) ranger at Hanifaaru Bay – a world famous habitat for mantas and whale sharks – “and he said they’d look into it. But they’d have to patrol the whole area – it’s too big,” she acknowledged.
Director General of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) Ibrahim Naeem said he was not aware of the incident or that it had been reported to the Hanifaaru Bay ranger, and referred Minivan News to the Ministry of Fisheries which he said was responsible for sharks and turtles.
“It is not allowed to catch and eat turtles. There is no such ban for eggs. Even in the biosphere there are actions that are allowed,” Naeem said.
Minivan News is seeking comment from the Ministry of Fisheries.