Arron Culling of New Zealand did something truly remarkable for two lucky sea turtles. He spotted the pair at a local food market in Papua New Guinea, threw down $50 (about US $33), put them in his truck and released them back into the wild.
“Found these at the local market, got them for 50 bucks, drove 5 km up the road and let them go,” he wrote on Facebook.
Culling also admitted that this isn’t the first time he’s bought and released sea turtles meant to be food, writing in the comments of his post that he and a friend named Mark have bought and released at least eight other sea turtles.
“This person is a hero and saved these turtles lives,” Terry Norton, a veterinarian and the director of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, told The Huffington Post. “They would have been sold, killed and eaten otherwise.” He also noted that the turtles in the pictures are juveniles and have had a lot of experience navigating the ocean “so they should not have any issues finding their way to where they need to go.”
That is, unless they return to the scene of the crime.
“Unfortunately this might mean that they are recaptured if they go back to where they were originally caught,” Dan Evans, sea turtle expert at Sea Turtle Conservancy, told HuffPost. “But they are at least being given a chance at survival.”
Since Culling posted his photos on Facebook, the images have gone viral receiving 79,283 shares on social media site alone.
It’s understandable why the pictures are resonating with so many people. Almost all species of sea turtle are classified as endangered, according the World Wildlife Federation. Not only has their natural habitat been compromised due to climate change but they are also poached for their meat, skin, shells and eggs.
Yet, Moby Solangi, who is the executive director at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, doesn’t think Culley’s buy and release plan will help the plight of sea turtles long term.
“Buying from the market is simply providing an incentive to catch more turtles,” he told HuffPost. “It does not discourage a person from catching a turtle, but actually encourages it. This guy better have a lot of money, as the word will spread that one can make money by selling the turtle to him. He has unwittingly created an additional market for the turtles.”
He instead encourages Culley to reach out to local government agencies and wildlife conservation groups in New Guinea and help spread information that may help pass laws to protect the species.
“The guy has a good heart,” said Solangi. “But needs a viable strategy to help the turtles.”
Also on HuffPost: