Kota Belud April 26, 2012: If you were angered by the thought of sharks being caught for their fins and then thrown back into the sea where they ultimately die, read on. There's even more to human cruelty.
Three protected hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys Imbricata) - the majestic creatures you get to see in tourism promotion commercials - were left to die in the waters off the Mantanani islands after their shells were forcibly removed and their eyes punctured to blind them.
The gruesome discovery of the turtles, which can grow up to a metre long and weigh around 80 kilogrammes, was made by staff of a tour operator here on April 20.
Lionel Aaron Lingam, a marine conservation officer with Mari Mari Mantanani Travel and Tour, said this was the first time he had seen something like this at the islands since he started working there.
According to him, their boatman saw a turtle floating towards the dive lodge's jetty around 10.50am and that was when he asked one of his crew members to guide it closer for them to have a look.
"We were all in disbelief as the poor thing which was a female was already very weak after having its shell removed and eyes poked."
"Sadly, the white coloured turtle was dead after 20 minutes," he said, adding that they buried the turtle at Mantanani Kecil.
Another turtle was discovered at about 5pm the same day, floating between Mantanani Besar and Mantanani Kecil.
"The second turtle was smaller and we couldn't identify whether it was male or female," he added.
The third one was spotted in a similar state - minus its shell and eyes blinded - near a jetty at Mantanani Besar.
Lingam said the locals told him that people from the island resort to such cruelty to make souvenirs.
"Unfortunately, we have no evidence to pin-point exactly who had done these cruel acts."
It was learnt that representatives from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) will be heading here to conduct a post mortem soon while representatives from the Sabah Wildlife Department are being expected on April 26.
The World Conservation Union has classified hawksbill turtles as critically endangered and they are protected under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
It is among the four marine turtles that can be found in Malaysia and the largest population of hawksbills is found in the Turtle Islands of Sabah with an average of 500-600 nests each season.
Other nesting places are in Malaysia are at Malacca, Johore and Terengganu.
They are primarily found in tropical coral reefs and are usually seen resting in caves and ledges in and around these reefs throughout the day.
As a highly migratory species, they inhabit a wide range of habitats, from the open ocean to lagoons and even mangrove swamps in estuaries.
Like other marine turtles, hawksbills are threatened by the loss of nesting and feeding habitats, excessive egg-collection, fishery related mortality, pollution and coastal development.