The garish trade in sea turtles in Indonesia, including Bali, shows that the country has paid scant attention in protecting its rich wildlife heritage.
In January, authorities in Bali recorded three cases of illegal trading in sea turtles for consumption, with a total 67 protected turtles being traded.
"The sea turtle traders admitted they had been doing this regularly," IB Windia Adnyana, a researcher at Udayana University's Veterinarian School, said Thursday at a national workshop on strategy to counter the illegal trade in turtle shells, at the Hotel Nikki, Denpasar.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg, with indications that the trade in rare and endangered animals is escalating."
In the last nine years, Indonesia has traced 42 cases of turtle smuggling, three of them linked to fishermen from China, with the other 36 cases occurring in Bali.
"Demand for turtles in Bali is still high. Weak law enforcement to fight the trade has also helped fuel the crime," he said.
Puspa Dewi Liman, deputy director of program and evaluation at the Forestry Ministry, confirmed that poor law enforcement had contributed to the rise in the trade in sea turtles.
She added the ministry faced several obstacles in controlling and taking action against the practice, including lack of forensic skills and moral integration among forestry officials and law enforcers, lack of coordination among the relevant institutions, and lenient punishment for offenders.
"In terms of law enforcement, since 2003 at least half of those caught trading in endangered animals were not prosecuted," she added.
In 2003, only two of ten cases were prosecuted. In 2004, eight cases were dropped. In 2006, of the all-time high of 20 cases, only seven traders were convicted. Last year, only half of eight cases were successfully prosecuted.
"We have problems tracking the criminals in the jungle. That's another reason for poor law enforcement against illegal trading in rare animals," Puspa said, adding the number of smuggling cases had also increased worldwide.
"China is one of the countries with a high demand for sea turtles for consumption," she said.
"Ironically, when we tracked the cases down to its customs offices, we did not find any data on sea turtle smuggling. This situation has also been a big challenge for us."
Because of the surmounting obstacles, Puspa said she appreciated the newly passed Law No. 5/2009 on Ratification of the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (UNOTC).
"Crimes in forestry can lead to money laundering," she said.
During Wednesday's workshop, organizers pledged to draw up a draft legal ruling against turtle trading to help the authorities.
As of this year, WWF Indonesia began awarding officials for their efforts to tackle the illegal trade in sea turtles.
"The award is an appreciation that is expected to motivate other officials to do their best," said Wawan Ridwan, WWF Indonesia's ocean program director.
In the years to come, WWF plans to hand out Enforcement Tribute Awards in the form of cash should the awardees keep up the fight against the sea turtle trade.
Sinjai Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Sugeng IR from South Sulawesi
Dompu Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Bagus Giri Basuki from West Nusa Tenggara
Dompu Police chief detective Adj. Comr. IB Dedy Januartha
Adj. Comr. Putu Suara Dinata from Bali Police air and water police division