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Minister: More protection for turtles coming
Turtle nesting season began this month and Environment Minister Ganga Singh says protection of turtles will be increased. He said in a text message yesterday: “The conservator (Conservator of Forests) has been mandated to plan and implement a programme for increased turtle protection during the nesting season.
“In addition, close collaboration between the Turtle Trust and the ministry for greater community engagement and enforcement is ongoing,” he added. He said Government’s position was that T&T had local stewardship for a global asset. “Every effort will be made to enhance the protection of the turtles,” Singh said.
The responsibility for the protection of turtles lies with the Wildlife Division of the Environment Ministry and 14 game wardens who patrol to protect the endangered animals.
T&T supports one of the largest populations of nesting leatherback turtles in the world. Game warden Richard Sorillo said with education programmes and greater public awareness, T&T had come a long way when it came to turtle protection and cases of turtles being killed or harmed had been minimised in recent years.
He added: “Thousands of people come to beaches to see the turtles. The one or two that abuse the animals are in the minority. It is just one or two idiots making trouble and we are trying to get these idiots.” He said while wardens patrolled prohibited nesting areas, it was difficult because of manpower issues to patrol places like Manzanilla and Las Cuevas.
Sorillo said the division had an honorary game warden programme under which 200 volunteers were assisting with patrols but that depended on when the volunteers had time. Environmental Management Authority CEO Dr Joth Singh said the penalties for harming turtles were not heavy enough to be considered a deterrent. The penalty for harming turtles is either six months’ jail time or $2,000.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Dr Singh said there was not sufficient enforcement or enforcement officers to protect turtles properly during the nesting season which runs from March to September. Last year, images of people sitting or standing on turtles caused public outrage, with people calling for the individuals to be identified and penalised. Old images have recently been reposted on Facebook, with critical comments on those molesting the turtles.
Dr Singh said while some nesting beaches had been made prohibited areas, the turtles were venturing to other beaches, such as Las Cuevas, Mayaro and Manzanilla, which were not properly protected. Managing director of Nature Seekers, a conservation organisation with the goal to protect the turtles, Dennis Sammy, said more protection for them would soon be a reality.
“We recently got a grant to focus on training people for patrolling the beaches to protect the nesting turtles,” Sammy said. He felt although there was a greater level of awareness of the animals. Curiosity had also risen, he added.
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