Professional surfer James O'Brien may have had good intentions when he was photographed straddling a Hawaiian green sea turtle. But he's an earful from animal activists, locals who revere the animal and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
According to NOAA's endangered species list, the green sea turtle in Hawaii is threatened while the turtles off of Florida and the Pacific coast of Mexico have the stronger distinction of endangered. The Daily Mail reports Wende Goo, at NOAA in Honolulu, as saying that people shouldn't even touch protected animals. Anything that could "disturb its natural behavior patterns", according to the Division of Aquatic Resources, should be avoided or fines could be incurred. NOAA's fine under the endangered species act could be more than $13,000; the case is currently under investigation.
In addition to the potential violation for federal law protecting the animals, groups are also upset over the fact that the turtle is honored by some native Hawaiians as a cultural symbol. Daily Mail has more:
Traditional belief on the islands tells of a green turtle Kauila who could change herself into a girl to watch over children playing at Punalu'u Beach.
Where Kauila's mother dug her nest, a fresh well of water sprung up to quench children's thirst. It is also said that the turtles were guides for the first voyagers to Hawaii.
If you are here with rage, read below. And help build the storm. … Fibropapillomatosis of sea turtles is probably caused by a herpes-type virus, and is causing an epidemic amongst sea turtles. Sea turtle fibropapillomatosis (FP) was first discovered in 1938. FP is a disease marked by proliferation of benign but debilitating cutaneous fibropapillomas and occasional visceral alien. While much research has been and continues to be done to find the causes and remedies for FP, there is a new and alarming development. Fibropapilloma tumors are starting to show up on other sea turtle species in increasing numbers! If the same pattern of infection occurs as was seen with green turtles, it will not be long before FP outstrips even homo sapiens as the single greatest threat to marine turtles.
West Hawaii Today reports Patrick Opay, endangered species branch chief of the NOAA Fisheries Service Pacific Islands regional office in Honolulu, as saying that even if O'Brien's intentions were to raise awareness, the image doesn't portray the right message to the public:
"You don't want to be grabbing the animal, petting it, feeding it," [Opay said.]
Here's a video response (via Huffington Post) exemplifying why people are upset over the photograph:
Several media sources have contacted O'Brien and the photographer, but neither have responded.