Published on: Sunday, March 23, 2014
"I saw 60 or more carcasses of sea turtles strewn at two sites and hidden under trees at the north eastern tip of Pulau Tiga - ironically one of the islands included in the proposed million-acre Tun Mustapha Marine Park and a premier Coral Triangle site," Dr James Alin said.
"Stench from the carcasses was overwhelming, leftover flesh and discarded internal organs were decomposing," Dr James told Daily Express.
"The carapace, plastron, head and four flippers were still intact in some of the carcasses but no more rotten flesh. Most carapaces scattered at the sites had their scutes (bony external scales) removed," he said.
"The islanders claim having alerted the authorities and circulated stories about sea turtle poaching for years but these were dismissed as rumors.
What I saw struck me like a thunderbolt as a long running truth," Dr James said.
"Here I was, at a killing field of sea turtles, feeling sad for the slaughtered turtles and disappointed with myself for not having the skill to perform a necropsy to identify the species," lamented Dr James of UMS School of Business.
"Next to the site stood an abandoned make-shift shelter or a lookout hut made of corrugated zinc and wooden planks big enough for five adults to sleep, plus some traces of fire but no plastic wraps," he said.
Dr James said he received a tip off in January from a fishing tawkeh in Kudat about the movement of sea turtle hunters in and out of the Balambangan-Banggi Channel.
"The informant told me that during certain seasons, the poachers would be hunting turtles day and night and the last time his fishing crew of Bugis from Sulawesi saw the hunters was December 2013.
"Five to six of them were camping at different locations in Pulau Tiga, live sea turtles were brought to Balambangan where they would be kept inside a pen or fish cages ," the informants reported.
Once the volume of live turtles builds up, they would translocate these caged turtles live across the border of Balabac Strait.
But one a while, they also slaughter sea turtles for meat and hide it inside ice boxes and transport them across the Balabac Strait where they sell them to fishing vessels from Mainland China and Vietnam, Dr James said.
The wholesale price of fresh turtle meat is RM300 per kg but only RM100 for dried meat while an adult live turtle can be sold at RM2,000 whereas juvenile turtles can fetch RM1,300, Dr James said.
The poachers are said to comprise foreigners from Mangsee island in Philippines and locals from Manabuan and Dogotan islands within the Banggi region. "The tawkeh claimed that one of his friend actually alerted the Maritime Enforcement Agency," Dr James said.
Citing an interesting incident, he said in November 2013, two Malaysians, Ku Vui Hjung and Rahman bin Abdul Rahman, both from Kudat, were arrested by the Philippine National Police (PNP) Marine Group in Mangsee island allegedly in possession of 10,000 turtle eggs, two sacks of dried sea turtle meat and three sacks of dried giant clams.
The two suspects were brought under the custody of Special Boat Unit in Puerto Princessa City which filed charges against them for violating Section 27(1) of Republic Act 9147 (The Wildlife Act).
In December 2013, PNP Marine Group were conducting operations in the waters of Balabac when they noticed foreign vessels and arrested 13 Vietnamese for illegally entering Philippines Waters and poaching protected marine species.
Dr James said on board the Vietnamese fishing vessels were the remains of 300 dead sea turtles!
In November 2912, the PNP found and rescued 123 live sea turtles of various species hidden in three submerged cages inside a mangrove swamp in Balabac Island. Six turtles died, no arrests were made and the surviving turtles released in marine species sanctuary Roughton Island, Dr James said.