Operators of illegal aquarium punished following lawsuit initiated by NGO

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Following a long journey, two sea turtles arrived safely at the Hainan Sea Turtle Rescue and Conservation Center last month. It is the closest the two reptiles have been to home in the past seven years.

In September 2015, the two turtles were purchased as display animals, put together with a variety of marine creatures, and shipped 1,500 kilometers inland by Zhao Zhong, Zhao Gang and He Qing, owners of an aquarium in Changsha, Hunan Province.

On Oct 29, 2020, during a routine inspection, fishery officials from Changsha Agricultural Administrative Bureau found the turtles in extremely poor health. They confiscated them and sent them to Hunan Provincial Wildlife Workstation for medical care and feeding.

The sea turtles were later found to be a national second-class protected species, listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Wild Fauna and Flora. In addition, the aquarium was also found to be operating illegally, having been developed from an old science and technology museum many years ago without proper approval.

On Sept 26, a public interest lawsuit against the three defendants, filed by an NGO called the Ecological Protection Volunteer Services Federation of Hunan Province, was heard by the Xiangjiang Environmental Resources Court of the People’s Court of Kaifu District, Changsha.

The defendants were sentenced later the same day and ordered to pay 37,500 yuan ($6,000) for the loss of national wildlife resources, to make a public apology in the media, and to volunteer for wildlife protection activities.

The two turtles were then sent to a rescue center in Hunan, before eventually being transported to Hainan.

The prosecutor explained: “In the suitable climate of Hainan, they can rest and recuperate. They can return to the sea when their health allows.”

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