Hawaiian North Shore pro surfer Jamie O’Brien has been the target of much criticism since he posted an online photo of himself of ‘riding’ a sea turtle. He supposedly mounted the threatened sea creature in an attempt to raise awareness about the spread of fibropapillomatosis, a deadly skin disease cause by a herpes-type virus, that is negatively effecting the sea turtle population. It seems, however, that his well-intentioned attempt has backfired.
Surprisingly, the criticism has nothing to do with the questionably sexualized nature of the photo rather some are claiming he has broken state and federal laws against harassing the endangered sea turtles. Others feel that this image conveys O’Brien’s lack of respect for a creature deemed sacred by Hawaiian culture.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Honolulu have confirmed that O’Brien is under investigation. All sea turtles living in US waters are consider endangered and are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). According to this Act, the fine for harassing a sea turtle can be up to $13,200.
Habitat destruction, commercial fishing and entanglement in marine debris are all major threats facing the endangered sea turtle population. Hawaiian marine reserves and beaches are littered with signs that warn against disturbing marine life and the reefs. It seems Jamie didn’t take this into consideration before his underwater photo shoot.
What do you think: Should Jamie O’Brien be charged for potentially causing distress to the endangered species or should he be let off the hook with a warning?