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Poachers, nets kill turtles at Matura
Within the past few days, five leatherback turtles have washed up dead on the shore of Matura Beach. The incidents were made public by Nature Seekers director Dennis Sammy in a release to the media on Thursday. Sammy said four of the turtles died as a result of becoming entangled in fishing nets, while one unfortunate female turtle was poached and killed. “The female turtle washed ashore without the head or flippers,” Sammy said in a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian.
Sammy said these incidents indicated that the numbers of turtle deaths would rise in the coming months, as it had only been a month since the nesting season started. He said sea turtle by-catch was a major problem, as turtles that were caught in fishing nets could not come up for air and eventually drowned. By-catch refers to anything fishermen unintentionally catch in their nets while plying their trade.
“Research shows that more than 1,000 turtles are killed each year,” he said. “One fisherman indicated to Nature Seekers in 2011 that 97 turtles were killed in his net.” Sammy said the alarming number of turtle deaths will mean this country will not be able to sustain its healthy population of turtles. Nature Seekers, in partnership with state agencies and NGOs, he said, had developed a project to address the problem of by-catch, which involves providing alternative forms of fishing for fishermen during turtle season.
“We also want to raise awareness amongst fisherfolk and rural communities of the risk of using nets during the season.” Sammy said the groups were awaiting the approval of the Environmental Management Authority and the Institute of Marine Biology to implement the project. On the issue of poaching, Sammy said the Forestry Division and the Turtle Village had been on patrol since the season started, to keep away poachers on land.
What the law says
Under the Fisheries Act, No person shall:
(a) take or remove or cause to be removed any turtle eggs after they have been laid and buried by any female turtle or after they have been buried by any person; or
(b) purchase, sell, offer or expose for sale or cause to be sold or offered or exposed for sale or be in possession of any turtle eggs.
3. No person shall, at any time, kill, harpoon, catch or otherwise take possession of any turtle, or purchase, sell, offer or expose for sale or cause to be sold or offered or exposed for sale any turtle, turtle meat or any other part of the turtle.
Turtle nesting season
The sea turtle nesting season lasts from March to August and during this time more than 10,000 turtles are expected to visit Trinidad’s eastern beaches. The sea turtles travel across the Atlantic Ocean, making their way up the beaches. The female turtles dig holes with their rear flippers and lay 80-100 eggs, a process they can repeat up to 12 times during breeding season. The eggs will hatch in about two months, and then the baby turtles make their journey back into the ocean.
In 1990, Matura Bay was designated a prohibited area under the Forest Act (Chap 66:01) during the nest season, owing to the widespread slaughter of egg-bearing females by poachers. People wishing to visit the beach must obtain a permit to enter the prohibited area from the Forestry Divison. Anyone found on the beach without a permit during the nesting season can be fined $20,000.