Temple turtles freed at last

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After decades in captivity, the five remaining sea turtles held in Dayi Temple in Penghu have finally been returned to their ocean home.


The sea turtles were released at dusk during the high tide on November 16, 2022. The remaining turtles included three green sea turtles, one hawksbill turtle, and one loggerhead turtle.


The sea turtles were trained in 100-ton pools at the Penghu Fisheries Research Institute to prepare them for the release, with fish added to simulate the ocean environment. However, the turtles were not given access to sea net-pens as urged by EAST.


The Penghu Fisheries Research Institute stated that a veterinarian examined the turtles on November 3 and approved the animals for reintroduction to the wild. With the exception of some wrinkling of the shells, the Institute assessed the turtles to be in good health with good mobility and foraging reactions.


Two of the turtles are equipped with transmitters to track their whereabouts after release. The Ocean Affairs Council claimed it was unable to track all five turtles due to a shortage of transmitters.


The release comes months after a spate of deaths at Dayi Temple, including a hawksbill turtle carrying more than 900 eggs. The deaths triggered widespread public condemnation, with EAST’s account of the situation attracting more than 75,000 likes. The public pressure forced Dayi Temple to hand over the turtles to the Penghu Country Government, prefacing their release.


At Dayi Temple, the turtles were kept in cramped underground pools, with no regard for the fact they are solitary animals. The underground chamber deprived the turtles of the sunlight required to maintain healthy shells, while a 2012 study found high blood levels of copper and nickel – likely as a result of coins tossed into the pools by visitors.


The five turtles were the last surviving turtles held in captivity at Dayi Temple. Records show the temple has raised at least 18 protected turtles since records began, with their captivity pre-dating the enactment of the Wildlife Conservation Act more than 30 years ago. EAST has been working to seek their release since 2017.


Timeline of our efforts

  • In May 2017, EAST visited Dayi Temple and witnessed eight sea turtles – each more than 1m in length – imprisoned in the dark temple basement
  • In June 2017, EAST initiated a facilitation session between officials and villagers to push for relocation or evaluation for wild release
  • In November 2018, EAST publicly exposed turtle abuse at Dayi Temple and cast doubt on the number of turtles raised by the temple
  • In April 2019, the Ocean Conservation Administration and the Penghu County Government promised conditions at the temple would be improved
  • In June 2022, two green sea turtles died without warning at Dayi Temple, followed by a hawksbill turtle the following month
  • On July 20, 2022, EAST demanded the Ocean Affairs Council intervene to save the remaining turtles
  • On July 28, 2022, Dayi Temple relinquished ownership of the surviving sea turtles, which were then taken to the Penghu Fisheries Research Institute for release evaluation and training


Media contact

Ting-Yu Chen, Researcher
Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST)
Mobile: +886 (9) 6011 1932
Phone: +886 (2) 2236 9735