Conservationist estimates about 360, not 12,000 turtles slaughtered in seizure of dried meat

Dr James Alin, advisor to Friends Of Sea Turtles Education and Research.

KOTA KINABALU: The 9,000kg of dried sea turtle meat seized by police would likely be from about 360 adult sea turtles, says conservationist Dr James Alin.

The marine police seizure of the dried turtle meat did not reflect the reported estimate of 12,000 turtles killed for that amount of meat, said the advisor to Friends Of Sea Turtles Education and Research (Foster) explained.

"If such an amount (12,000 turtles) were killed, we would have felt the impact on our turtle landings on the islands," he said here on Tuesday (Dec 5).

Explaining this, he said on an average, one can only get 40kg of fresh meat from an adult female green turtle species.

"Drying under the sun without salt and brine would turn it into an estimated 25kg of dried meat.

In other words, a hunter needs 1.6kg of fresh meat in order to get 1kg of dried meat. The 600 grams lost are evaporated water and salt," he said.

As such, he said based on the formula, the 9,000kg dried turtle meat recovered would reflect about 360 adult green sea turtles killed.

Alip, who has interviewed ex-convict poachers and sellers in the Philippines, said that the value per kilogram of dried meat was about RM30 based on black market rates in Palawan, Sitangkai and Tawi-Tawi islands in southern Philippines.

The value of the 9,000kg in the black market would be around RM270,000.

On Monday (Dec 4), Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jauteh Jikun had disclosed that marine police seized about 9,000kgs dried turtle meat and also other sea produces from a trawler boat in Mangsee reef waters between Pulau Bangi and Pulau Bangsi in Sabah's northern Kudat on Nov 29.

However, four suspects abandoned the Semporna registered trawler and escaped to a neighbouring country. Police have detained the owner of the trawler for questioning.

According to Alip, the poachers in the area often cross borders from Palawan to Balambangan Island off Sabah.

"They have relatives residing in Sebogoh and other illegal squatter water villages at Balambangan," said Alip who described them as small-time smugglers whose profitable side came from dried Green turtle meat, Carapace of Hawksbill, Trepang (sea cucumber).

"They ply between Kudat to the east coast, along the way collecting live sea turtles whenever possible, or else they would buy dried meat from different hunters in Semporna and Kudat near to Simanguak Island," he said.

Poachers use nets at the shallow reefs -the foraging grounds of gravid or juvenile sea turtles, to catch the sea turtles and use any of the islands to process and discard the unwanted parts.

"Gravid (pregnant) sea turtles usually stay at the coral reefs near the rookeries in between of the nesting time," he said, adding that these poachers used uninhabited or unguarded islands to carry out their activities.

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