Believing it was dead, he continued his walk with a heavy heart. This was a first-time occurrence for him on this particular beach, but witnessing the cruel impact of human behaviour isn’t a new experience for John who has long fought animal cruelty, and especially the dog meat trade, in Southeast Asia.
Despite feeling helpless, John had an urge to return to the turtle. With Yao, his maid, and his dogs piled into the car, he set off to find the trap again in order to move it. Originally, he intended only to raise awareness about turtles and marine litter by taking a few photos. However, after relocating the trap away from the water’s edge, Yao noticed movement in the turtle. Miraculously, it had survived.
John removed the young turtle from the trap, Yao filled two bottles with seawater and they brought the turtle home, placed it in a bucket of seawater and got in contact with the Mai Khao Sea Turtle group.
It was later discovered that the youngster, now identified as a critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle, is suspected to have eaten plastic. It is currently at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre where it will receive specialist care and possibly surgery.
Here John shares with The Phuket News his thoughts and experience on finding the turtle, and the greater picture of the plight of turtle conservation in the region.
What is your opinion on turtle welfare in Phuket?
There are some good groups who try to help and rescue turtles in Phuket and Khao Lak, though I have always been concerned about the turtle releases that occur at some hotels. This is not eco-tourism, but exploitation. The turtles released are not newborn, and my understanding from experts is that turtles should be released as newly hatched babies at night and in a location well away from human activity, as all female turtles that do survive, which is not many, will return to the same beach they were released from. Whether this happens after they have grown for a few months I have no idea, but if there are lights and noise, as is the case in front of all hotels, then likely they will not come ashore and instead abort the eggs.
Tell us about your experience of finding the turtle.
At first I was sure it was dead as it was totally motionless. The trap it was caught in had come adrift from its mooring and was fairly high up the beach, and at that time the tide is low, so it had been there some hours, and there is no knowing how long the turtle had been caught in the sea before the trap was washed ashore in the heavy seas.
I was sad but I felt there was nothing I could do. After getting back to the car and rejoining my maid who was walking separately with a very old and disabled dog, something made me decide to go back to the site.
I planned to move the trap right off the beach and take a photo to show what these things can do. When moving the trap my maid noticed a slight movement. I managed to untangle it and sure enough it was alive though clearly weak.
I decided it would not be safe to put it back in the sea as we had earlier seen people down the beach carrying an injured adult back to the sea. From a photo they took it looked like it could have been hit by a boat propeller. Unfortunately, we were too late to tell them not to do that.
We decided we would contact the turtle rescue group in Mai Khao. So my maid filled a couple of plastic bottles with sea water, of which there is no shortage of either, and we took the young turtle home. Getting it home we put it in a plastic container together with the seawater and made sure it could keep its head above the water. We also covered it with a wet cloth on the advice of the turtle rescue people.
It was both a rewarding experience knowing we had saved its life but also upsetting as of course vast numbers of turtles are killed every year by the fishing industry whether commercial or as in this case a local fisherman. One only has to stand on Laypang Beach at night to see a wall of trawlers. The chances of a turtle getting through that wall unscathed must be slim.
Did this have an impact on you and/or your beliefs?
Not really. I am already only too familiar with the damage we are causing to the other inhabitants of this planet and, of course, through Soi Dog, the cruelty man is capable of inflicting on animals. As my late wife used to say, “If there is a God then the biggest mistake he made was putting man on this planet”!
What kind of message do you think this kind of incident spreads?
I hope it raises more awareness of the plight of these creatures – whose numbers are dwindling because of us – and hope hotels will stop releasing babies in what is in reality only a tourist event in front of their premises. People pay to release a turtle in a totally unsuitable location. It is exploitation at its worst sold as an eco-event.
Injured sea turtle findings can be reported to the Phuket Marine Biological Centre on 076 391128.