Turtle Poaching, Maldives

Turtle Poaching Case 2023

Keyodhoo, Baa Atoll, Maldives


Basic Facts

  • 1978 – Maldivian Parliament passed Bill 24/78 prohibiting the catching of hawksbill turtles less than 61cm carapace length, and all other turtles less than 76cm.
  • 1979 – Parliament passed Bill 31/79 prohibiting the export of raw hawksbill turtle shells (however, export of items made from processed hawksbill turtle shells were permitted).
  • 1980 – Ministry of Fisheries banned the sale and display of turtles below the size limits specified in the 1978 Bill 24/78.
  • 1982 – Globally, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List classifies the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) as “Endangered“.
  • 1995 – Under Presidential Decree, killing, fishing and harvesting of all species of turtles is banned for 10 years (replaced 1979 Bill 31/79).
  • 1995 – Exports of all species of turtles are banned by the Ministry of Trade. Imports of turtles/products into the country are also banned.
  • 1996 – Ban on sale of turtles/products in the country.
  • 2006 – Ministry of Fisheries renewed the moratorium on turtle killing and harvesting for a further 10 years.
  • 2006 – Sea turtle egg harvesting was banned from 14 hotspots in the Maldives (turtle egg consumption was allowed on other islands, and meat consumption was still allowed).
  • 2010 – Maldives signs Convention on Migratory Species (IOSEA) agreement for turtle protection.
  • 2013 – Maldives signs CITIES agreement banning turtle trade.
  • 2015 – MRC helps to establish a North Indian Ocean Marine Turtle Task Force (NIO-MTTF) [Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Maldives].
  • 2016 – Sea turtles are fully protected under s 4(a) of the Maldives Environmental Protection and Preservation Act (4/1993) through the Regulation on Protected Species (RPS) 2021/R-25 which came into force on 17 February 2021.
  • Section 18 of the RPS: harming protected turtles carries the fine of between MVR 30,000 (~USD 1950) to MVR 50,000 (~USD 3250).
  • 2022 – Green Sea Turtles were included in the Maldives National Red List (April 2022), categorised as “Endangered“.
  • 2023 – 7 poachers from Baa Atoll (Maldives) committed the crime of killing 6 green turtles in Baa Atoll Keyodhoo (on 23 January 2023).

Key references:

EPA Statement, Government Gazette, 7 Sept 2023 (Dhivehi)

[PDF] Status of Marine Turtles in the Maldives 2016
by Khadeeja Ali and Mohamed Shimal (MRC)

Other sources :

@mohamedseeneen on X, 10 October 2023
Sea Turtle Conservation, Maldives Underwater Initiative
Olive Ridley Project
Widespread ‘secret’ slaughter of endangered sea turtles despite ban; “very tasty” say killers, Minivan News, 31 March 2013

Additional Cases

2022 – 24 cases related to sea turtles were reported to the EPA; source: EPA Annual Report, pg.101

April 2022, Conservationists rescue 5 turtles in Laamu Atoll before poachers were able to slaughter them, as reported by Isha Afeef, A successful rescue mission saves five green sea turtles, Olive Ridley Project. Given the scale of the problem and the weaknesses of the regulatory, protection and law enforcement regime by state authorities and the resource limitations for protection, missions such as these conducted by civil society organisations are critical for conservation in Maldives

March 2023, two large turtle carcasses were found on the beach at Laamu Atoll Gan, as reported by Anaan Bushry, EPA investigates slaughtered turtles on L. Gan beach, The Edition, and Naizak Mohamed, EPA probes poaching of turtles in L. Gan, Sun.mv.

Post-Meeting Findings
LIARS sea turtle poaching Maldives

What has been alleged by reliable sources, that do not align with the MoECCT Minister Aminath Shauna’s story about the Keyodhoo case and the existing regulatory regime on the protection of endangered species in the Maldives.

  • the EPA Board of Governors did not unanimously agree to the MoECCTs alleged re-interpretation of s 18(b) of the PSR 2021.
  • the EPAs legal department did not endorse the alleged re-interpretation.
  • contrary to the minister’s assertion, the PRS 2021 had been applied before and this case is not the first such case.
  • the minister had sent a directive or a memo asking to change the EPAs decision.
  • the minister had written the press release herself.
  • no one besides the Director General of the EPA Mr Ibrahim Naeem was involved in reducing the fines.
  • the AGO letter did not constructively provide legal reasoning to reduce the fines.
CSO Group Meets Minister
  • 10 representatives from 7 CSOs and concerned groups attended the meeting at the MoECCT
  • According to the Minister of MoECCT Aminath Shauna, she had received a letter from the poachers, before they had accepted receipt of the EPAs fine letter, asking to appeal the case
  • Since there is no appeal process for the regulation, she had then met with the EPA Board of Governors who unanimously agreed that the protected species regulation had a flaw – and that it had a maximum limit imposed and did not clarify what procedure to follow where multiple animals are slaughtered
  • the minister made the assertion that the EPAs lawyer had agreed with the above concern
  • the minister had discussed the matter with the Attorney General over a phone call and asked for his directions – who had also agreed there was a flaw in the regulation
  • the minister had requested for this in writing from the AGO, which was duly provided on 6 September 2023
  • the minister also asserted that EPA had then asked for the amendment of the regulation with no instructions or influence on her part
  • responding to a question from a CSO stakeholders, the minister also stated that this incident is the first time the PSR 2021 had been applied to a case, indicating the 2021 regulation had no precedent
CSO Joint Letter To Minister
  • Civil society organisations and other concerned stakeholders sent a joint-letter to the minister for the MoECCT Aminath Shauna requesting to clarify the matter of the sudden and drastic reduction of the fine and the reasoning for the decision by the authorities.
  • The MoECCT responded asking to meet with the advocates.
EPA Statement
EPA statement #savemaldives campaign turtle poaching Maldives
  • EPA issued its statement about its handling of the case and the details pertaining to the involvement of the MoECCT, EPAs Board of Governors and the AGO in the case on the Government Gazette on 7 September 2023.
  • The statement was issued on the morning of 7th September.
  • It is unclear if due process was followed within the EPA, and if the EPAs legal department had also been involved in the decision-making process.
AGO Legal Advice
  • The AGO provided its legal advice in letter number LAD/438/2023/43-32 of 6 September 2023 stating that the Regulation on Protected Species 2021/R-25 did not specify a regime to impose the fine based on the numbers of the animals involved and therefore each individual can only be fined a sum between MVR 30,000 (~USD 1948) and MVR 50,000 (~USD 3246)
  • Therefore, on the very same day – 6 September 2023, having regard to the EPAs Board of Governors advice to the MoECCT, and the MoECCT’s letter to the EPA and the advice of the AGO, the EPA revised the fines imposed on the poachers to per person, not per turtle, fining MVR 33,000 (~USD 2,143) per individual, payable within 30 days of notice inclusive of public holidays
  • It is not clear if EPA had properly re-evaluated the crime to fit the fine, for example: to assess, if the maximum per person penalty is MVR 50,000/- and whether killing and harming 6 turtles warranted that
  • EPA Statement on the Government Gazette published on 7 September 2023 (Dhivehi)
Fine Notice Delivered

EPA was able to deliver the fine notice to the perpetrators with the assistance of the Kendhoo Island Council. As reported in the EPA Statement on the Government Gazette published on 7 September 2023 (Dhivehi).

Unpaid Fines
sea turtles poached Maldives

The fines were due within one month. By the end of July 2023, they remained unpaid.
“Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that fines imposed on individuals involved in the poaching of sea turtles in Keyodhoo, Baa Atoll, have not been paid.” EPA says sea turtle poaching fines unpaid, PSM News, 30 July 2023.

  • According to the EPA, the agency received a letter from the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Technology (MoECCT) informing the agency that the ministry was looking into the matter following receipt of letters from the poachers who committed the crime about the fine. (Note that according to the EPA statement, the agency was only able to deliver their notice of fine to the poachers on 31 July 2023).
  • According to the EPA, the MoECCT had said in the same letter that the ministry had received advice from the EPAs Board of Governors to re-evaluate the fine issued by the EPA and is seeking legal advice from the Attorney General’s Office (AGO).
EPA Imposes Fine
  • EPA imposed fines of MVR 198,000 (~USD 12,857) per poacher, under s 18(b) of the RPS 2021, a sum of MVR 33,000 (~USD 2,143) ) for each turtle.
  • “Each of the seven people who were caught … poaching turtles in Keyodhoo, an uninhabited island in Baa atoll, has been fined MVR 198,000.”
  • Turtle poachers in Baa atoll fined MVR 198,000 each, Atoll Times, 11 July 2023
Poachers Fined
poachers fined #savemaldives campaign turtle poaching Maldives

EPA imposed fines on 7 individuals for the slaughter of 6 turtles.

Each individual was fined MVR 198,000 (~USD 12,857) under s 18(b) of the Regulation on Protected Species 2021/R-25.

The fine was payable within 30 days.

According to EPA, it was unable to deliver the notice of fine to the poachers despite engaging the assistance of the Maldives Police Service

Poachers Apprehended
  • 7 poachers were apprehended at Baa Atoll Keyodhoo for illegally taking 6 live turtles, which they were in the process of cooking after slaughter, at a location in Baa Atoll Keyodhoo.
  • Reports were made to the police, who together with Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve Office (BRO), arrived at the crime scene and conducted an investigation.
  • The authorities involved were the Maldives Police Service (MPS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the BRO.
  • 6 of the 7 poachers were reportedly from Baa Atoll Kendhoo and 1 from Baa Atoll Keyodhoo.

Green sea turtle and sea grass

Image credit: Olive Ridley Project