KOTA KINABALU: Capturing a sea turtle for picture sessions with tourists is "absolutely a breach of Standard Operating Practice (SOP) and unethical behaviour from people operating a tour during marine life observation," says licensed tour guide David Tseu.
Tseu, who is Assistant Secretary of the Sabah Tourist Guides Association said the fact that this breach of SOP has resurfaced after a round of bad press in Facebook and in the front pages of local media a year or so ago shows that some key parts of the industry have not unlearnt unethical behaviour.
"This is a complete shock because all locals featured in the picture (taken in Pulau Mantanani) are supposed to be marine ambassadors after being taught the guidelines and procedures when conducting a tour during their diving and employment course," Tseu said.
"The pictures show little concern and responsibility towards the sea creature by locals who apparently work for tour company. Is this their marketing strategy of promoting and enticing visitors to buy tours through guaranteed picture sessions with turtle?" Tseu asked.
"Because the breach of ethics has recurred in such a blatant manner, STGA feels compelled to highlight this severe case which calls for a heavy fine and reprimand against the operator and staff to remind all about the seriousness of protecting nature and wildlife, especially endangered species," Tseu said.
Both Green and Hawksbill sea turtles are Totally Protected Species and capturing them other than for rescue or authorised research purposes can be considered illegal "hunting" in the sense of taking the creature from the wild, the penalty of which can be RM50,000 in fine or a maximum jail term of up to five years under Section 21 (1) of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, if convicted, said Dr. Senthival Nation, Assistant Director of Sabah Wildlife Department.
If such capture results in the death of the Totally Protected Species, then the penalty is a mandatory jail term of maximum five years with no less than one year with no option for fine, under Section 25(3A) and Section 37 of the same Enactment, if convicted.
"So, firstly, it is totally wrong to capture sea turtle for photographic purposes because it stresses them."
"Secondly, close proximity between human and wildlife may cause diseases and you don't know what viral diseases they have, to jump from wildlife to human or vice versa."
"And thirdly, it is wrong because what you are doing is not sustainable tourism," Dr. Sen explained.
According to Dr. Sen, Mantanani is not the only place where such reports of sea turtle capture has taken place. It also happens in the East Coast.
Meanwhile, work stopped and eyes turned when a freshwater turtle was spotted walking back and forth along the outer edge of a first floor ledge above the five-foot-way of a block of shops in Kampung Air on Monday morning.
Puzzled on what a freshwater turtle was doing in the streets of Kota Kinabalu, curious onlookers called the Sabah Wildlife Department Director, Datuk Dr. Laurentius, who dispatched two staff but found all access outlets to the ledge closed.
Where this freshwater turtle had disappeared to since remains a mystery. - Kan Yaw Chong