Two men free stingray and rare turtle trapped in large fishing net off Lazarus Island
Two men who spotted a large turtle and blue-spotted ribbontail stingray caught in a 100m-long fishing net managed to free both animals and pull the net to shore to prevent other creatures from getting trapped.
Mr Andrew Kemp, a hotelier, was on his yacht and Mr Scott Tucker, a tech professional who works in the field of artificial intelligence, was on his jet ski when they spotted the turtle in the net off Lazarus Island.
Both men, who do not know each other, got to work until they managed to free it.
Speaking to The Straits Times, Mr Kemp, 58, said the turtle was a critically endangered hawksbill, and large for its kind – about 1.5m from tip to tail.
He said: “It was thrashing about and properly caught. Its head, flippers and back were all trapped.” He dived into the water to cut the turtle loose.
Mr Tucker, who is from New Zealand and declined to give his age, said he pulled up the net to the side of his jetski to hold the turtle still while Mr Kemp worked to free it.
It took them about 30 minutes to free the turtle, and the task was made more difficult by the weight of the net, which Mr Tucker likened to a big wet blanket.
Marine biologist Zeehan Jaafar, a senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore, said the huge nets are known as gill nets, and have floats at the top and weights below to hold them upright and catch everything in their path.
Without intervention, a turtle trapped below the water’s surface in these nets can drown in minutes, depending on its “energy budget” and stress levels, she added.
The turtle is likely either a hawksbill or green turtle, Dr Jaafar said when shown videos of the rescue. Both species of turtle are endangered but are frequently seen in Singapore waters.
Gill nets have fine filaments that render them virtually invisible to marine life that swim into them. They are sharp, too, said Mr Kemp, who is British, and has lived and worked in Singapore since 2012.
“The net felt like cheese wire. I thought I was going to lose a finger. I really would prefer to have some pretty solid gloves on me next time,” he said.
When abandoned, these nets become death traps for animals unless someone gets to them in time and releases them.
In June 2021, at least 12 black-tipped reef sharks were found dead in an abandoned gill net near Pulau Semakau. Between that year and 2022, the deaths of at least 20 blacktip reef sharks and two hawksbill turtles were among those linked to gill nets near Singapore’s offshore islands.
Another case of gill net trouble was recorded in 2023, said a spokeswoman for Marine Stewards, a volunteer group that promotes sustainable fishing practices and marine conservation.
She said if anyone comes across trapped live animals in the sea, they can try to free the animals safely, if possible. Otherwise, they should call NParks or the Marine Port Authority (MPA) if the nets are a hazard.
The gill net fishing method is legal in some countries but illegal in others.
Net fishing in the 12 coastal parks and areas managed by NParks is forbidden because of the damage that the method has on marine life.
But the Fisheries Act, which regulates the fishing industry here, does not ban the use of gill nets outside of these areas. Rather, it can be illegal to damage the fishing implement.
The waters off Lazarus Island are managed by MPA.
Mr Tucker called MPA before beginning the rescue.
Shortly after freeing the turtle, it got caught again further down the top line of the net, he said.
After freeing it the second time, the men decided to remove the net from the sea, a laborious task that took another half-hour despite only being 50m away from the beach, Mr Tucker said.
In the end, they decided to cut it in half, and were finally able to drag the net to shore. But not before Mr Kemp noticed a blue-spotted stingray also caught in the net, which he freed as well.
While the two men were dragging the second half of the cut net to shore, the fisherman who cast the net, an MPA vessel and the police arrived, and the police questioned the fisherman, said Mr Tucker.
ST has contacted MPA for comment.
Hawksbill turtles have been regularly seen in the Singapore Strait. Females have also been spotted coming ashore at East Coast Park to lay eggs.
The turtle that Mr Kemp and Mr Tucker saved is one that is well-known to those who frequent Lazarus Island, said Mr Kemp, who has seen the hawksbill every few months for the last six years.
Hours after the net was cleared, Mr Kemp said he was surprised when he saw the turtle he rescued swim up to his yacht, which was still moored in the bay.
“I’m glad. I’m convinced it was thanking me,” he added.