The police have seized a large amount of turtle shells and red corals from Malé and the island of Buruni in Thaa atoll.
Catching or killing of sea turtle species, as well as the importation and sale of turtles and turtle products, have been banned in the Maldives since 1995. The removal and sale of corals were also prohibited by the 1995 fisheries law.
On Thursday afternoon, the police were tipped off by a member of the public and confiscated 41 pieces of red corals from the Ladhumaage house in the Maafanu ward of the capital. The corals were handed over to the ministry of fisheries and agriculture.
Inspector Mohamed Fazeen, deputy head of the general investigation department, told the press on Saturday that the corals were brought to Malé from the island of Dhuvafaru in Raa atoll. No arrests have been made but the police are searching for a suspect, he said.
According to the Environment Protection Agency, the corals were likely stored for export. Red coral, also known as precious coral, is used to make jewellery and ornaments and fetches a premium price. In the Maldives, it is usually found at a depth of about 70 meters.
According to the Japan Coral Association, the average price for top-class red coral in Japan was about US$60,000 per kg in 2014. In February, the Indian customs department reportedly seized more than 15,000kg of red corals worth about US$162,000 that was smuggled from China.
Inspector Fazeen meanwhile told the press that the police also seized 17 styrofoam boxes full of turtle shells from a home on the island of Buruni last Monday. The house was searched with a court warrant after the Vilufushi police station received a tip-off.
After the owner of the home said the turtle shells were brought from a shop’s warehouse in Malé, the police raided it on Thursday night and confiscated a further nine boxes.
The warehouse’s caretaker told the police that the turtle shells were found while emptying out a shop in Malé’s market area. The police have taken samples from the turtle shells for a forensic examination, Fazeen said.
No arrests have been made over the turtle shells either.
At yesterday’s press briefing, Chief Superintendent Mohamed Shiham said the police have launched special efforts to crack down on environmental crimes. Information for raising public awareness about conservation and environment protection will be provided through the EPA and the environment ministry, he said.
Last month, the police confiscated 92 smoked fins from the northern island of Kulhudhuffushi after photos of dried shark fins put out in the sun to be smoked began circulating on social media.
The Maldives banned shark fisheries in 2010.
In September last year, the arrest of 13 Maldivians caught in Laamu Atoll with three sea turtles and buckets of eggs and turtle meat revived concern among environmentalists over the government’s failure to impose fines for harming marine life.
In late 2014, an environmentalist had set up a Facebook page to name and shame those who violate environmental laws and harm protected species.
In December 2014, the page publicised photos of a sea turtle cut in half for its eggs. Weeks later, it published photos of tourists aboard a safari boat posing with live sharks.