To date, about 1,000 leatherbacks have returned to these shores for the nesting season and there have been no instances of poaching or abuse, says a forestry official. The nesting season started from March 1 and ends around September 30. Among the species that frequent here are leatherbacks, hawksbill, green, olive ridley and loggerhead. Johnny Seepersad, acting Conservator of Forests, said, "About 1,000 came to nest. We are in the middle of the nesting season. They are coming back in abundance to various beaches like Matelot and the east coast. They like long beachfronts with sand. It's one of the reasons why they are heading as far as Mayaro."Traditionally, Grande Riviere had the highest population. Now they are spreading out to Manzanilla, to a place called Indian Bay (Guayaguayare), he said. "This is good news."
Don't ride turtles
To protect the turtles, they have stepped up night patrols. "So far we have not gotten any incidences of poaching and abuse. Forestry Division has stepped up patrols in non-traditional areas like Fishing Pond. By July, the hatchlings would be coming out. They would be disoriented and rather than head to the beach they head to the land. We need to capture them and lead them back to the water. The rate of survival is better because there is the natural habitat."Seepersad appealed to people to refrain from riding the leatherbacks and even posting pictures on social media. "That is a no-no. Do not ride the turtles. It is a harmful practice. Don't put the pictures on Facebook. We don't encourage that. We have to keep educating people and hope law enforcement would do the rest."
Alternative fishing equipment in 2014
Meanwhile, fishermen from Matura to Matelot are being offered alternative fishing equipment like trolling, live bait fishing and palang hooks to replace nets from next year during the period February to May, to protect the turtles.Managing director of Nature Seekers Dennis Sammy said the bycatch (fish caught unintentionally) from using the nets continued to pose a problem for turtles during the nesting season. Sammy said it was a pilot project. "Next year, we are seeking to move the project forward. We are hoping to have all the equipment in the country. Nature Seekers is seeking to support fishermen with alternative pieces of equipment. It is a draft proposal towards providing fishermen with alternative fishing equipment."He said they were having ongoing dialogue with Agriculture and Fisheries Division."You can have a perfect act but if there is bycatch, there would be a problem. Bycatch was not dealt with in the last amendment (2011) of the Fisheries Act. It did not take into consideration bycatch and leatherbacks being caught in fishermen's nets. There was an opening by which you could have hunted turtles October to September and even sell meat in the markets. But that is now illegal since the amendment."
Fisheries and Conservation acts insufficient
Sammy said two pieces of legislation–Fisheries Act and Conservation of Wildlife Act–deal with the conservation and management of turtles. He said, however, it was a little difficult as the Fisheries Act only deals with hunting or the killing of wildlife. "So the Conservation of Wildlife Act is still necessary right now because of the harassment factor. Both acts are insufficient for properly managing the leatherback population," Sammy added.Sammy said there was insufficient information to guide the active management of the turtle population. "The lack of information for ecotourism is where the gap exists. Data collection which is the carrying capacity that is necessary for a nesting beach has not been scientifically determined."Without such valuable information our ability to create valuable legislation and management plans is going to be limited, Sammy said. "Because T&T has the largest population in the Caribbean a much more collaborative approach to legislation development is needed. We need stakeholders and Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) to support communities on research projects towards this end."
Fines, possession of turtle partsSeepersad, meanwhile, said fines and phrasing related to the gender and turtles' parts are two grey areas which need to be amended by the Fisheries Act. Fisheries covers turtles because it is a marine creature.Seepersad said, "It should not be female or male turtle. It should be any turtle. It should not be about specific parts like carcass or meat." The fine for killing a turtle is $2,000 and being on the beach without a permit can lead to a maximum fine of about $20,000. From March to August (prohibited period) a permit is required to visit beaches like Grande Riviere."It is inadequate to act as a deterrent. And while we have seen a reduction in the poaching, $2,000 is too little. It should be about $20,000 for both killing and being on the beach illegally."
�2 Keep movement to a minimum so as not to disturb turtles
�2 Keep a safe distance away as indicated by tour guide
�2 If the turtle shows signs of distress, move away at once
�2 No use of flashlights or flash photography
�2 Allow hatchlings to make it to the ocean alone
�2 Wear warm clothing and comfortable shoes
�2 Don't light campfires, smoke or litter
�2 Don't drive on nesting beaches
�2 Don't stake umbrellas or other objects on nesting beaches
�2 Avoid disturbing the eggs or nests
�2 Control dogs on the beach because they dig up nests