【Press Release】Illegal turtle swap? Improper rearing? Is the government powerless?! End the improper confinement and exhibition of sea turtles at Penghu County’s Dayi Temple

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(Taipei, Taiwan) – November 28, 2018 Dayi Temple (大義宮) of Zhuwan Village (竹灣村) in Penghu Country, dedicated to the worship of Guan Yu (關公), has for the last thirty years reared more than ten sea turtles in a filthy, sealed underground pool, deprived of natural light. Sea turtles are solitary animals in the ocean, but have been kept in the same pool at the temple while being exhibited for the visiting public. The temple has turned the pool into a wishing well and induced the public people to toss coins, thus contaminating the pool with heavy metals. Levels of heavy metal in the blood of the captive sea turtles exceed that of those caught by fisheries in the wild. Furthermore, because the sea turtles have been deprived access to sunlight (particularly ultraviolet light), the turtles have developed vitamin D3 deficiencies, affecting the absorption of calcium required for the growth of their shells. As a result of these conditions, the lifespan of these captive turtles has been greatly reduced, while the group rearing environment has caused the turtles to fight and compete for food.

The government has so far been unable to clearly grasp the number of sea turtles that were sent to the basement of the Dayi Temple before the implementation of the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法) in 1989. The temple itself has declared that that number is nine, though according to the Ocean Affairs Council’s (海洋委員會) statistical record of sea turtle deaths, in the approximately 30-year period from 1997 until today (government records only begun in 1997) there have been 10 sea turtle deaths in Dayi Temple (nine green sea turtles and one hawksbill turtle). Counting the eight turtles currently kept by Dayi Temple (five green sea turtles, one loggerhead sea turtle, and two hawksbill turtles), from the time Dayi Temple announced it was rearing sea turtles (1986) until now, it has kept at least 18 sea turtles that are classified as protected. Given this, the question is: has the temple illegally replenished its bale of protected sea turtles? From the central government down to the local government, no one has exact information.

Furthermore, to these turtles that usually live past 100 years, the high death rate seen at the temple is extremely abnormal. From the central government (previously the responsible authority was the Forest Bureau (林務局), now it is the Ocean Affairs Council) to the local government, there has been a complete dereliction of duty that cannot be shirked.

Because the local villagers believe that rearing sea turtles can bless the work of fisherman out at sea, despite the many complaints from the public to the government over the years protesting this “improper rearing” or even “abuse”, demanding that the government intervene, the central and local government authorities have been unable to make the villages of Zhuwan agree to relocate the sea turtles to a suitable outdoor captive environment, or consider releasing the sea turtles back into the ocean.

In May 2017, EAST visited the Dayi Temple to investigate the circumstances of the sea turtles, and on June 14 of the same year attended a seminar hosted by the Penghu County Agriculture and Fisheries Bureau Conservation Branch (澎湖縣農漁局保育科) at the Zhuwan Community Centre (竹灣村民活動中心). On that day, the temple and villagers declared that they would actively improve the sea turtle’s living environment within the next half a year. The county government conservation department proposed that a solution be found that respects both the beliefs of the villagers as well as conservation needs. However to this day, no improvements have been made to the deplorable conditions at Dayi Temple.

Currently, Dayi Temple is keeping eight sea turtles, including five green sea turtles, one loggerhead sea turtles, and two hawksbill turtles. According to the regulations outlined in the Wildlife Conservation Act, public exhibition of protected species requires approval by the responsible authorities. Dayi Temple’s approval permit is set to expire at the end of November. EAST calls on the Ocean Affairs Council and Forestry Bureau to intervene, and in addition to investigating the decrease and increase in turtle numbers and their source, prohibit Dayi Temple from continuing to publicly exhibit these severely abused turtles. Should Dayi Temple persist in rearing sea turtles, a strict date must be set for the improvement of the turtles’ living space. Otherwise the sea turtles should be rescued immediately, and provided with medical treatment.

●    Date & time: 10:00am, November 29, 2018 (This Thursday)
●    Location: Taiwan Animal Protection College (台灣動物保護學院)
●    Address: Section 3, Level 3, 162 Roosevelt Road, Da’an District, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路四段162號3樓之3)
●    Investigation videos and photos will be provided at the venue.

Contact: Yu-Min Chen (陳玉敏), Deputy Chief Executive of the Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST). Mobile : 0910-150-908/ 886 (02) 2236 9735

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