Officials uncovered a sea turtle smuggling syndicate on Sunday that operated between West Nusa Tenggara and Bali. West Nusa Tenggara Police and officials from the West Nusa Tenggara Marine and Fisheries Agency and West Nusa Tenggara Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) captured both the transporter and supplier of the sea turtles.
Officials arrested the supplier, Ren, 27, in Dompu waters off West Nusa Tenggara, red-handed with 28 green sea turtles (Chelonia Mydas) stashed inside his motor boat. The buyer, Ketut Widana, 35, was arrested at his boarding house in Benoa Port, Badung.
Officials were able to uncover the syndicate after they received sufficient evidence to suspect that the Mekar Sari motorboat belonging to Ren was transporting the contraband while it sailed across Dompu-Sumbawa water at 2 a.m. Sunday. Officials immediately stopped the boat and found 28 green sea turtle tied with ropes in its hull.
The police said Ren confessed that the sea turtles were captured from Maci Sumbawa waters and that he was on his way to Bali where a buyer would transport the sea turtles to the island’s restaurants.
“After we finished interrogating Ren, we immediately contacted Bali officials to follow up on his responses,” said Sr. Comr. Ida Bagus Dedi Januarta, head of the Dompu Police crimes unit after the arrest of Widana in Denpasar. Widana was apprehended at his boarding house room in Benoa Port around 3 p.m. that same Sunday.
“We’ve been looking for this syndicate for a long time,” Dedi said.
Sea turtles, which are traditionally considered a delicacy in Indonesia, are a protected and endangered species. Capturing or selling sea turtles carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and Rp 100 million (US$8,500) in fines.
Police said both suspects had only smuggled sea turtles twice before, with Ren receiving Rp 6 million per trip. Police said both suspects would be tried in Dompu, West Nusa Tenggara.
Bali, where sea turtles are still widely consumed until a decade ago, remains a main sea turtle smuggling destination from West Nusa Tenggara.
“Out of the nine boats smuggling sea turtle that have been captured in West Nusa Tenggara since 2002, all of them were headed to Bali,” said Bursan, head of the West Nusa Tenggara BKSDA investigation unit.
Meanwhile, Ida Bagus Windia Adnyana, a researcher on marine conservation from the Udayana University noted a return of sea turtle smuggling. “There does seem to be a resurgence of sea turtle smuggling, most likely due to lax supervision from law enforcers,” he said.
As of 2008, the number of sea turtles traded in Bali is estimated to have reached 3,000 sea turtles a year, much less than the condition in 2000 when Bali saw the trading of 30,000 sea turtles each year.