Dozens of rare turtles rescued by police from sampan near Lamma Island

Dozens of rare turtles rescued by police from sampan near Lamma Island

Thirty-five endangered green sea turtles and one ‘critically endangered’ hawksbill turtle said to be in a stable condition at Ocean Park

Thirty-six endangered sea turtles were rescued after police intercepted a sampan at the Sok Kwu Wan Fish Culture Zone, on the east coast of Lamma Island.

The reptiles were sent to Ocean Park for a detailed veterinary assessment and were in stable condition, a park spokeswoman said on Saturday.

“This is the largest batch of turtles ever sent to us,” she said. “Further examination will be conducted over the next few days to determine their health status.”

The turtles were found when marine police intercepted the suspicious vessel at around 9.30am on Friday.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said an investigation was being carried out but no arrests had been made.

The creatures comprise 35 green sea turtles and a hawksbill turtle. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, the green sea turtle is an endangered species, while the hawksbill turtle is a critically endangered one.

The size of the carapace – the upper part of the shell – of the 36 turtles found ranges from 31cm to 81cm. They are now temporarily housed in quarantine pools at the park.

Green turtles are some of the largest sea turtles. They “are threatened by overharvesting of their eggs, hunting of adults, being caught in fishing gear and loss of nesting beach sites”, the international non-governmental organisation the World Wildlife Fund said on its website.

Hawksbills are considered “a fundamental link in marine ecosystems”. They help to maintain the health of coral reefs and sea grass beds, the organisation said.

According to the local Wild Animals Protection Ordinance, no person shall, unless they have a special permit, hunt or wilfully disturb, sell or export, possess or control any protected wild animal. Those who breach the law are liable to a maximum fine of HK$100,000 and imprisonment for one year.

All sea turtle species are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and regulated under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance.

Unlawful import, export, re-export or possession of specimens of endangered species may lead to a maximum penalty of HK$5 million and imprisonment for two years.

A spokesman for the government called on the public “not to import or export specimens or products of endangered species from dubious sources”.