Eco-tourism players can ‘guard’ isolated islands against turtle hunters, says conservationist

KOTA KINABALU: There is a need for Sabah Parks to work with eco-tourism operators to "guard" against sea turtle poachers within an isolated island in the Tun Mustapha Marine Park in northern Kudat district.

Turtle conservationist Dr James Alin said there was a need for Sabah Parks to join a venture with eco-tourism operators to create security against poachers who roam and use isolated islands to trap and kill turtles.

"Getting the cooperation of eco-tourism players will help guard turtles inside Tun Mustapha Marine Park. Except for Maliangin Island near Karakit, most of the isolated islands are empty while big ones are occupied by illegal immigrants who don't have reason to care for sea turtles or conservation," he said.

Alin, who is an advisor to Friends Of Sea Turtles Education and Research, said that poachers from neighbouring southern Philippines islands operate in unguarded areas where sea turtles are abundant.

He said the security agencies like the Marine Police and other uniformed authorities such as Customs and Excise, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, and the Navy conduct patrols and operations based on separate objectives.

"Poachers and smugglers are playing a game of cat and mouse with the authorities," he said, adding that they flee the area the moment they see the enforcement agencies.

“So, they try to avoid detection by operating in the unguarded areas," he said, adding that eco-tourism outfits could play the role of guarding these isolated islands while carrying out their businesses.

On Nov 29, Marine police seized about 9,000kgs of dried sea turtle meat from a fishing trawler in waters off Kudat near the southern Philippines Palawan island.

Alin estimated that about 360 adult sea turtles were killed and the meat was worth about RM270,000 in the black market in the Philippines.

The poachers were described as small-timers with relatives in Sabah who often crossed borders from Palawan to Balambangan Island (Sabah). They also moved between islands along Sabah's east coast catching sea turtles and buying its dried meat from various poachers in Semporna and Kudat.

He said they usually used nets at shallow reefs to catch juvenile sea turtles and head to the isolated islands to process and discard the unwanted parts.

The Tun Mustapha Marine Park covers an area of 898,762ha with more than 50 islands and islets in the state's northern districts of Kudat, Kota Marudu and Pitas.

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