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On Water: Rescue in the Deep

On Water: Rescue in the Deep

Mar 1, 2024

This happened one weekend as I was going through my Saturday morning routine on the water—jet skiing around the Southern Islands is my favourite thing to do when the sun comes up.

On 18 November as well, I went out at about 7.30am. When I got to Lazarus Island, the bay was empty except for a sailing yacht. I went towards the beach and noticed a line semi-submerged in the water—it looked like a trawling line or perhaps, a net drifting towards the beach. However, as I got closer, it seemed a bit more deliberate. It was tightly stretched from almost one side of the bay to the other, probably 100m long or more, about 50m off the beach.

As I turned back the other way and followed it, I found a large sea turtle tangled up in the net—and in a state of panic trying to free itself.

The waters around Lazarus Island were designated a marine protected area by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) in 2014, as it is a part of the marine park located in Southern Islands planning area. So I was surprised to see such a large net in the area. What was even more shocking was that the sea turtle was a critically endangered hawksbill, and large for its kind—about 1.5m from tip to tail.

It was quite gut-wrenching to watch—to think that the life of such a peaceful and harmless friend of the ocean would hang in the balance because of someone with the wrong agenda. It made me very sad and helpless at the time as I didn’t have any tools on my person to help cut it free.

So I messaged ONE°15 Marina and SYC Powersports and requested them to contact the MPA and get help.

I then went back towards the sailing yacht I had seen earlier to tell them about what was happening. The skipper Andrew Kemp quickly grabbed a knife and climbed on the back of my jet ski so he could cut the line and free the turtle.

We approached the net and Andrew jumped in only to discover that the turtle was tightly caught up in the net. He started cutting the lines—I had to pull up on the jet ski and lift the turtle to the surface while Andrew cut the net. The petrified animal was scared of us at first, but soon seemed to realise that we were there to help and started to relax so we could get it free.

We finally managed to get it free and we decided to get the net out of the water so that other animals or people would not get caught. I knew that a lot of boats would come in later in the morning and leaving it there would be dangerous.

As we were hauling it in, we noticed the turtle had swam into the net again about 30m away. So we had to cut it free twice. It was quite deflating when it went and got caught again in the net after we had freed it.

This made us even more angry at the person who had callously laid the net. Andrew mentioned that they had seen a fisherman come in at about 10pm the previous night and he was asking weird questions like “what is this place?” even though he had his location on GPS. They thought he was probably out squid fishing. It wasn’t until now that the enormity of the mess the fisherman had created dawned on us: He had laid a massive net right across Lazarus Island.

Regardless, it needed to be removed, not just for the sake of the turtle, but also for the safety of the boats and passengers who would be coming to the bay later—families with children swimming and paddle boarding could get caught up in this net like the turtle did.

We cut the 100m long net into pieces so we could drag it to shore with the jet ski. By this stage we just wanted that net gone, so we cut it in the middle and dragged the first end out. However, as we were clearing the other end, we noticed that there were two stingrays also caught in the net. Andrew managed to free the first one.

Then the fisherman arrived in his long boat— saying that he was from Changi and was trying to catch a stingray. He seemed to have no idea what Lazarus Island was or why this was all such an issue.

We told him that he couldn’t fish here, and how we had just rescued a turtle from his net. But, he just kept repeating that he was fishing for stingrays.

His sheer ignorance annoyed and angered us even more. We just told him to collect his nets and get out of there. We also told him to remove the rest of the net on the other side of the bay which he proceeded to do. As we went to oversee what he was doing, he pulled up the net, and there was another larger ray. He just pulled it into his boat.

By this time, MPA personnel had arrived and we jet skied over to them and gave them all the details along with photos and videos.

The fisherman went ashore to recover the part of the net we had dumped there. MPA left and shortly after the fisherman was seen being questioned by the police at the beach.

I was very upset to learn that the same fisherman returned to Lazarus Island later that day and caused more chaos. A luxury yacht charter found another net, and while pulling it up found two more turtles, one dead and the second one died while being taken back to the marina. I heard the net had also grounded a boat that afternoon.

I really wish that there can be more awareness about the important roles these marine animals play in balancing the ecosystem of our waters.

A few hours later, Andrew and his crew who were still in the yacht, saw the turtle surface nearby, as if to say “thank you”. It was very heartwarming to hear that the turtle was ok. From Andrew’s description, it did look like the turtle had come back to say thanks!

My wife and I were jet skiiing around Lazarus Island a few weekends ago and we saw a large turtle swimming in the same place that we had done our rescue. It looked similar and was about the same size, so I hope it was the one we rescued enjoying life around Lazarus Island.

The original article was published on the March/ April 24 issue of Longitude, ONE°15 Marina’s Club magazine. Read it here.