KUDAT - THE poaching of sea turtles at Pulau Tiga here is rampant because of the high demand from China and Vietnam, said a researcher from Universiti Malaysia Sabah.
Economist Dr James Alin, who has been doing research on the economic activity at the area for the past seven years, said the price for fresh turtle meat was RM300 per kilogramme and RM100 for dried meat.
"Middlemen usually buy the live sea turtles from islanders. They hide the turtles on Balambangan island before bringing them to Balabac Straits in the Philippines.
"From there, poachers will ship the sea turtles to either China or Vietnam."
Alin said there were claims the poachers were locals and people from nearby islands.
"A village head here complained there was a decline in the number of sea turtles coming to the beach since illegal immigrants started occupying neighbouring islands five years ago.
"Several times, the community saw pirates in their speedboats hunting turtles at the sea," he said, adding that reports had been lodged with the authorities.
Last year, the Philippines National Police Marine Group arrested local and foreign fishing vessel for possessing sea turtles.
"The arrest of poachers is a clear indication that the underground market is functioning well.
"Poaching in Pulau Tiga here is just one trail of the long supply chain extending from the islanders to middlemen at the bottom, up to the consumers in other countries."
Alin hoped the island, which was part of the proposed Tun Mustapha Park, would be gazetted soon to protect the biodiversity and prevent further environmental damage.