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Tourist faces NT$300,000 fine for touching sea turtle for selfie on Taiwan's Xiaoliuqiu

Woman ignored pleas by beachgoers to stop touching turtles, feigned ignorance of laws

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Tourist grabs turtle to take selfies with endangered species at Xiaoliuqiu beach. (Facebook, Breaking News Commune screenshots)

Tourist grabs turtle to take selfies with endangered species at Xiaoliuqiu beach. (Facebook, Breaking News Commune screenshots)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A tourist who was captured on video grabbing a sea turtle while posing for selfies on Pingtung County's Xiaoliuqiu faces up to NT$300,000 (US$9,499) in fines for disturbing the endangered species.

On Wednesday (Nov. 22), a member of the Facebook group Breaking News Commune 2 (爆料公社二社) posted a video taken that day showing a woman wearing a yellow dress standing in shallow water at the beach across from Xiaoliuqiu's Beauty Cave. In the video, she can be seen trying to take a selfie with two sea turtles that are swimming around her.

At one point, a larger wave sent one of the sea turtles floating away from her and in order to keep it in frame, she squatted down and touched its shell. Beachgoers can then be heard shouting in the background warning her not to touch the sea turtle.

However, she continued to take photos and as the sea turtle attempted to swim back out to sea, she put her hand on top of its shell for yet another selfie. She ignored further shouts from people on the beach demanding she stop touching it.

Tourist faces NT$300,000 fine for touching sea turtle for selfie on Taiwan's Xiaoliuqiu
Tourist puts hand on top of turtle to keep it from moving. (Facebook, Breaking News Commune screenshot)

The netizen said they informed the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) about the incident. When CGA personnel contacted the woman, she "looked stunned" and claimed that she did not know she was breaking the law, reported UDN.

After questioning, she was transferred to the Pingtung District Prosecutor's Office to be investigated for violating Articles 18 and 42 of the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法). Violators of this act may be sentenced to up to one year in prison and or issued a fine of NT$60,000 to NT$300,000.

In the past, tourists would often reach out to touch or step on turtles when they first saw them. More than three years ago, local marine conservation volunteers and the CGA jointly promoted a campaign to educate the public on not disturbing the turtles and placed signs in multiple languages ​​prohibiting harassment of sea turtles at the entrances and exits of every beach on the island.

As a result, harassment of the turtles has decreased over the past two years, but isolated incidents continue. The Xiaoliuqiu Marine Conservation Volunteer Team said that when tourists who violate the law are prosecuted, many of them claim ignorance of the regulations and that they did not see the warning signs.

Tourist faces NT$300,000 fine for touching sea turtle for selfie on Taiwan's Xiaoliuqiu
Tourist blocks sea turtle to take selfie with it. (Facebook, Breaking News Commune screenshot)

However, they said that this cannot be used as an excuse to avoid penalties, and they expressed the hope that tourists will abide by the law.

According to the CGA, tourists should not touch sea turtles because they have a protective layer of mucus on their skin, reported EBC. Random touching by humans can expose them to danger and even lead to bacterial infections.

In addition, the CGA emphasized that sea turtles are easily stressed. Sudden chasing or touching can cause them to swim away, possibly resulting in injuries or death.

Due to fear, they may also stop migrating to places where they have been touched. Therefore, regardless of how cute or seemingly friendly the turtles appear, the CGA admonished the public to never reach out and touch them.