People who touch protected sea turtles without permission could be fined up to NT$300,000, Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration warned on Friday after it caught a teenage tourist doing so, in Pingtung County.
“A touch of a sea turtle could cost you NT$300,000,” said a post on the Facebook page of the coast guard’s general-director’s office on Friday.
“Never touch sea turtles,” added the post, which was accompanied by a photo of a snorkeler touching a green turtle, a protected species in Taiwan.
At about 2pm on Thursday a coast guard patrol near Pingtung County’s Siaoliouciou Island (小琉球) responded after the picture, showing a snorkeler at Beauty Cave beach touching a sea turtle, showed up on social media.
The patrol found a German family at the beach and the 17-year-old boy from the photo, according to the coast guard.
Experts at the Pingtung-based National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, at the behest of the coast guard, identified the turtle as a protected green turtle, the agency said.
The teenager, who was vacationing in Taiwan with his family, has been barred from leaving the country pending an investigation and a hearing at Pingtung District Court, which could occur as soon as next week, the coast guard said.
It was unclear if the teenager would also face jail time.
Under the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法), anyone found guilty of disturbing, abusing, hunting or killing protected wildlife would be subject to a penalty of imprisonment for up to one year, imprisonment with a fine of between NT$60,000 and NT$300,000 or simply a fine of the same amount.
The fine would go up to NT$500,000 if the animal were killed, according to the act.
The coast guard’s post said it was not the first time tourists in Siaoliouciou Island were found disturbing wildlife in violation of the law.
“Although Siaoliouciou Island has one of the highest concentrations of sea turtles of any island in the world, there are only around 160 sea turtles in waters surrounding the coral island,” the post said.
The coast guard urged people to follow basic guidelines for protecting sea turtles, including not touching, not catching, not disturbing, not surrounding for any length of time or not chasing after sea turtles.
Divers should also keep a distance of at least 5m from a sea turtle and refrain from the use of sunblock products that could damage coral reefs, it added.
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