Made Arya Kencana
Denpasar. Maritime police arrested three men on Monday as they allegedly attempted to smuggle 18 live green sea turtles into Bali, where a taste for illegal turtle meat is supporting an underground trade, police said.
Police, noticing some “unusual unloading activities” from their patrol boat, approached the men as they reportedly offloaded the endangered reptiles onto a beach at Tanjung Benoa Bay.
Three men — Gede Kole, 30, Gusti Ngurah Datia, 35, and Nyoman Sugira, 44 — were arrested and charged with wildlife smuggling, police said.
A fourth man, identified as Sudir, fled the scene in the boat.
“Our priority was to rescue the turtles first,” said Sr. Comr. Agus Duta, head of Bali Police’s maritime division.
“As for the fugitive, we’re on his trail.”
The men face up to five years in prison and fines totaling Rp 100 million ($11,700), Argus said.
According to Agus, the men claimed to know nothing about the turtle’s eventual destination.
It is also unknown if there were more turtles still on the boat when Sudir fled, Agus said.
“They all claim they were hired expressly to unload the turtles from the ship,” he said. “They say they don’t know anything more than that.”
The demand for live sea turtles has given rise to a black market in Bali, where animals the size of those seized can fetch prices as high as Rp 5 million a head, said Tamen Sitorus, head of the Bali Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA).
In 1999, the government passed a nationwide ban on the sea turtle trade.
But high demand drove the practice underground, where animal traffickers trap live turtles off the coasts of Sulawesi and East Java to smuggle them into Bali.
The turtles were commonly sacrificed in traditional Balinese Hindu ceremonies.
In 2009, Bali Governor I Made Mangku Pastika proposed an annual quota of 1,000 sea turtles for sacrificial ceremonies. The measure was shot down.
Police believe this shipment of turtles was destined for Bali’s dinner plates.
“We suspect the turtles were headed for restaurants here where they illegally serve turtle meat,” Agus said.
The BKSDA estimates that the turtles were at least 10 years old and were caught off the coast of Sulawesi.
Green sea turtles can live up to 80 years in the wild.
The agency released 16 of the reptiles back into the sea on Monday afternoon. The remaining two turtles were sent to the agency’s turtle conservation center on Serangan Island, where they will be used as evidence against the alleged smugglers.
Nationwide, the number of smuggling cases remains high, in spite of the nationwide ban, Tamen said.
In May, officers seized 150 kilograms of turtle meat aboard a boat hailing from Madura Island in East Java.
In January, police foiled an attempt to smuggle in 38 live turtles aboard another boat from Madura Island.
And in November last year, Bali police seized a shipment of 87 live green sea turtles being smuggled into the resort island from Sulawesi.