PETALING JAYA: The Semporna Farmers Association has denied claims that some of their members had killed endangered turtles in retaliation for consuming seaweed in their plantations.
Association President Ahmad Rudi Abdul Rashid diverted the allegations instead to private and foreign plantations, insisting that local farmers were prohibited from killing the turtles.
“We have a strict policy against the killing of these turtles as we know they are endangered species,” he said.
Ahmad said a farmer who discovered a turtle consuming his crops was supposed to notify the association immediately.
“We will then send members to assist in capturing the turtle and transporting it out of the area,” he said.
He said that besides the green sea turtles, ikan belawis of the Barona fish also posed a threat to seaweed plantations.
“Both the fish and turtles pose a problem to our crops but as farmers, we are prepared to take the risks and we cannot remove the turtles as these islands are their natural habitat,” he said.
Ahmad said as the association had not received any reports from members, the turtles might have been killed by farmers from neighbouring foreign plantations that were not affiliated with the association.
“Other countries have different regulations when it comes to protecting their farms from pests,” he said.
It was reported that seaweed farmers were the main suspects in last week’s discovery of four green turtle carcasses floating in Semporna waters. Universiti Malaysia Sabah economics researcher and animal activist Dr. James Alin had been quoted as saying he believed seaweed farmers were responsible for the killings as they considered the green turtles pests.
The other possible suspects included artisanal fishermen and fishing vessels.
In addition to illegally hunting green sea turtle, Alin believed the fishing vessels were poaching other endangered marine animals such as manatees, dolphins and sharks.
Green sea turtles frequent the Semporna islands as they form part of their migratory route.
According to World Wildlife Fund data, every year around 60 turtle nests are recorded in the district with about 5,300 turtle hatchlings a year.
The turtles are classified as endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
Under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, killing a protected animal can lead a maximum fine of RM100,000 and five years in jail or both.