On Saturday morning, a dead juvenile green turtle was found dead and entangled in a fishing net near Pui O Wan on the south of Lantau Island.
The turtle was not yet sexually mature, and its shell measured about 60 centimetres in length. A necropsy performed by the government’s agriculture, fisheries and conservation department (AFCD) found nothing abnormal. Officials were unable to determine the animal’s sex.
Photo: Iain Brymer
Five species of sea turtle have been recorded in Hong Kong, according to the AFCD, but only green turtles breed in Hong Kong. Lamma Island’s Sham Wan Beach is their only known breeding site in the territory and has been designated a restricted area. The government also runs an artificial incubation and hatchling release programme.
Iain Brymer, a 49-year-old British national, came across the dead turtle near a rocky shore about a kilometre into paddling his outrigger canoe from Pui O Wan to Chi Ma Wan Peninsula.
“I noticed something unfamiliar,” the logistics company director told Coconuts HK. “As I got closer, I thought, ‘uh oh’.”
“When I got to the turtle I couldn’t believe it… I tried to free [it] but quickly realised it was too late.”
Having no way of cutting the dead turtle loose, he took a photo with his phone and later posted it on Facebook.
The news made its way to Gary Stokes, the Hong Kong-based director for South East Asia at Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an environmental organisation known for its controversial practices, such as scuttling whaling ships at harbor.
He quickly got onto his boat, found the turtle based on Brymer’s location description, and brought it back to Discovery Bay, where AFCD officials picked it up.
Photo: Sea Shepherd
According to Stokes, the net was wrapped around the turtle’s neck, mouth and flippers, and said it was “quite clearly” the cause of death.
“The turtle probably tried to get a fish caught in the net and ended up getting stuck in it,” he guessed.
“It’s quite sad!” Stokes told Coconuts HK. “It never even had a chance to get jiggy,” he said, cheekily referring to the fact that the turtle had not yet reached sexual maturity.
The conservationist said that Hong Kong’s artisanal fishermen often set the makeshift gillnets and leave them overnight.
“It’s a horrible invisible net that catches and kills everything,” Stokes explained. He added that these nets are often encountered by scuba divers in the east of Hong Kong, and that he advises his diving students to always carry two knives on them in case they become entangled themselves.
Photo: Sea Shepherd
“Those nets are really nasty, and are quite often abandoned. They’re almost always homemade, and break very easily. If they come off the float, then they’re lost and discarded, and because they’re cheap, they [the fishermen] don’t care. And they just keep killing.”
He said he’d like to see the government regulate such fishing methods, but that he doesn’t see it happening any time soon.
The AFCD has not yet returned our request for comment.
“As paddlers, we all see a lot of wildlife and we have a connection with the environment,” Brymer said, adding that all of his “paddle chums” across Hong Kong are very upset about his find.
The paddler, however, praised the 2012 Hong Kong trawling ban, which prohibited a method of fishing that involved dragging large nets along the bottom of the ocean.
Since the ban, “the wildlife has returned so quickly to our waters,” he observed. “We have kites, finless porpoises and loads of little ‘flying fish’. It’s amazing. But when you see something like this it knocks the stuffing out of you.”
“I couldn’t help thinking that if only I had gone out earlier then I might have been able to save [the turtle], as I’m guessing [it] hadn’t been dead for long.”
Brymer says that since the incident, he’s been “questioning his environmental footprint” and has been inspired to live an even more eco-friendly lifestyle. In the near future, he hopes to organise a clean-up with some of his canoeing friends in order to clear the abandoned nets littering the Hong Kong coastline.
“RIP Shelly,” he added.
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