Albanian Swaps Rare, 800 Kg Turtle for Mercedes
TIRANA An Albanian net fisherman has enraged biologists by swapping an endangered leatherback turtle weighing 806 kilos for a used Mercedes from an Italian fish trader.
Hysni Xhemali told the Metropol newspaper he was out fishing in Albania's Ionian Sea waters, as he had done for the past 10 years, when he saw "a big black thing in the net".
Five of his friends came to his help to drag the turtle close to shore, but in the end they needed a mechanical excavator to beach it.
Xhemali said he was immediately approached by an Italian fish trader but refused to deal. He reconsidered when offered a "nearly new" Mercedes and the turtle was reportedly shipped to a zoo in Rome.
The deal provoked the despair of Albanian Natural Science Museum director Idriz Haxhiu, who has personally rescued 450 turtles caught in fishing nets, in a programme that has the support of the United Nations.
Haxhiu, speaking to Reuters from Patok Beach in northern Albania as he was releasing seven loggerhead turtles, said the huge turtle was likely a "dermochelys coriacea" or leatherback.
"It is a very rare ocean turtle and would have been a great thing for Albania," Haxhiu told Reuters. "The only turtle of the kind ever caught here weighed 820 kilos," he added.
The jellyfish-eating leatherback turtle, named for its slightly flexible shell, is the largest of living turtles, measuring over two metres in length and width.
Sought for its eggs rather than its flesh, it is listed as a highly endangered species devastated by fishing nets it cannot escape and choked by plastic waste at sea.
Long threatened with extinction, such turtles are protected by the Convention on the Interional Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to which Albania and Italy are both signatories.
Haxhiu said the animal caught by Xhemali was probably heading for the sweet waters of the lagoon surrounding the ancient Greco-Roman ruin city of Butrint, across the channel from the Greek holiday island of Corfu.