Evidence of the illegal slaughtering of an endangered sea turtle was found on a beach on the Leeward side of the island recently.
The find was made by one of the monitors recording data for the St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Environment Fund’s (SVGEF) Leeward and South Coast Sea Turtle Monitoring Program.
The monitors are looking for nests of the Green Turtle, and Leatherback turtles which are endangered, and the Hawksbill which is critically endangered.
In the course of this program, approximately 17 individuals check the beaches at Brighton, Questelles, Clare Valley, Roucher, Jackson, Bambareaux, Troumaca, Chateaubelair, and Richmond daily for signs of turtle nesting. This began in June.
However, on September 7, at the Bambareaux beach, the shell of a Green Turtle was discovered. On further examination a hole that is suspected to be from a spear gun was observed.
Executive Director of the SVGEF and lawyer, Louise Mitchell, who spearheaded the initiative seeking the imposition of a complete ban on sea turtle harvesting which was enforced in January 2017, was contacted for comment on the matter.
Mitchell receives reports of these occurrences and therefore, she noted that hearing about it isn’t surprising.
“…But when you actually get the evidence and you see it, it’s still always a bit of a shock and it’s always heart wrenching to actually see the skeleton of the turtle that was injured. It’s always disturbing,” she said.
Asked whether she is aware of any other instances of turtle killing for 2022, the Executive Director informed that she has heard of many.
“I get reports that it happens all the time, but most people are either reluctant to report it to the police or reluctant to take photographs etc., because nobody wants to be a snitch,” Mitchell disclosed.
On the topic of greater enforcement of the ban, the lawyer said, “enforcement of the law is very, very poor right now because there isn’t sufficient community engagement in the process – I don’t believe the police get too many reports of this thing happening even though it happens on a regular basis. There’s lack of reporting of it.”
“So absolutely there needs to be a lot more community support for the protection of turtles and that’s one of the reasons why we initiated this program where we’re actually engaging monitors from the different coastal communities in the process of monitoring the turtles.”
“…Because by engaging the actual communities we hope that they will develop a greater sense of pride for their beaches and the entire ecosystem and habitat of that beach and that would lead to greater protection.”
The turtle expert who trained the monitors earlier this year was Carla Daniel, the Executive Director of the Barbados Sea Turtle Project.
At the time she explained, “Turtles start nesting at 30 years, it’s a miracle for them to make it that long to be able to reproduce – and they are quite long-lived – but they need to survive to be able to continue nesting and to be able to add to the species.”
“For one female turtle to replace herself, to get one offspring that survives, she needs to nest about two nesting seasons, and that could be up to four years. So if she doesn’t live for those four years to nest for those two nesting seasons she is not replaced. So eventually when she dies that’s a hole in the population, there’s nobody to carry on, there’s nobody to follow on,” Daniel had said.
According to the current legislation, the penalty for the killing of any sea turtle or harvesting of eggs is up to EC$5000. However, officials in the Department of Fisheries say that there are plans to increase this penalty in the coming year.