It is one thing to surf on board and quite another to hop on to an endangered animal for surfing. Pro surfer Jamie O’Brien has found this the hard way as he faces outrage of Hawaii residents, environmentalists and animal activists after a photograph was posted online showing him ‘riding’ an endangered Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle.
The controversy began last week when the picture was posted on the facebook wall of Hawaii News Now. Many commented immediately saying the surfer was harassing a species protected under federal and state law.
O’Brien tried to take charge of the situation by saying in his blog that he was only trying to draw attention to a herpes-type virus called Fibropapillomatosis, that is affecting the sea turtles around the world.
The reason though was not good enough for many including native Hawaiians who consider the turtle known as a ‘honu’, as an ancestral spirit.
Many activists, locals and others who have looked at the picture posted in youtube too have commented harshly on the odd way the surfer chose to get snapped with the turtle. And the outrage continues to pour in.
Some say in their comments that the surfer is lucky to be able to share the ocean with the endangered turtle and what he was doing in turn was like harassing the animal. Some other like Sharon Bull say what he did was totally outrageous. She adds that the surfer as well as the photographer should be punished to the full extent of the law.
The Hawaiian green sea turtles are friendly creatures and people can approach them to observe, but the surfer’s actions are being questioned because he seemed to be disturbing the animal.
Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resource says,
“There is no law specifying the minimum distance people can approach a marine mammal or sea turtle. However, getting close to these animals may constitute a federal or state violation if the animal is disturbed or if your action has the potential to disturb its natural behavioral patterns.” They recommend “that everyone stay at least 150 feet from all marine mammals and sea turtles.”
Hawaii News Now correspondent Anne Jacobs Harrison said, “I say share it, with a detailed explanation of why it’s wrong. Lots of mainlanders aren’t aware of the law, the penalty, or the reason behind the law, so it may reach some folks who otherwise wouldn’t know.”
Penalties and fines for feeding, petting, riding, or otherwise harassing the sea turtle can be as high as $13,200.
The controversial photograph, which is believed to be taken off Oahu’s North Shore, is currently being investigated by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Endangered Species Branch.