Are We Re­ally Se­ri­ous about Tur­tle Con­ser­va­tion in St. Lu­cia?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By

Alicia Valasse

The call for the man­age­ment of tur­tle pop­u­la­tions and the con­ser­va­tion of tur­tle species, which sci­en­tists date back to the time of the di­nosaurs, is noth­ing new. This decade­long di­a­logue has been used to ap­peal to the minds of poach­ers and pol­i­cy­mak­ers in the Caribbean but the hearts of many con­tinue to be swayed by their taste buds, their de­sire for quick cash and the pro­found belief that tur­tle eggs and meat can res­ur­rect dead penises and some­how re­sus­ci­tate lag­ging ones. In the midst of these di­a­logues, con­ser­va­tion groups con­tinue to im­press upon us the of­ten for­got­ten Fish­eries Reg­u­la­tions and other con­cerned cit­i­zens re­main stead­fast with calls for the en­force­ment of the law.

If I did not know bet­ter, I’d say that we are se­ri­ous about tur­tle con­ser­va­tion in St. Lu­cia. But I do know bet­ter. We are play­ing the game “Do as I say, not as I do”. Our ac­tions do not re­flect our words. Dur­ing the tur­tle nest­ing sea­son, we boldly pro­claim con­ser­va­tion in the name of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, Eco-tourism ini­tia­tives, com­mu­nity-based tourism and Youth Em­ploy­ment. A few months later, we is­sue no­tices al­low­ing fish­ers the right to cap­ture, kill and sell the same species we are sup­pos­edly con­serv­ing.

Years ago, through a mora­to­rium, marine tur­tles in St. Lu­cia’s wa­ters could swim freely with­out the fear of be­ing whisked away. Poach­ing was preva­lent par­tic­u­larly in the se­cluded ru­ral ar­eas but there was “no open sea­son”. To­day, the pres­ence of what is known as the tur­tle fish­ery is one of the threats to the sur­vival of marine tur­tles in St. Lu­cia.

Dr. Marie Louise Felix, a for­mer Fish­eries Bi­ol­o­gist, rec­og­nizes the end of the mora­to­rium as one of the hin­drances in the fight to con­serve marine tur­tles: “The mora­to­rium was ended in the ab­sence of proper sci­en­tific re­search to as­sess the state of re­cov­ery of the marine tur­tles and with­out the de­vel­op­ment of a man­age­ment plan for the tur­tles which in­cludes a mon­i­tor­ing pro­gramme to as­sess the im­pact of var­i­ous fish­ing lev­els on tur­tle pop­u­la­tions.”

Dr. Felix, who is knowl­edge­able and ex­pe­ri­enced in the area of tur­tle con­ser­va­tion, la­bels the tur­tle fish­ery as an “ir­re­spon­si­ble” ini­tia­tive which si­mul­ta­ne­ously threat­ens the ex­ist­ing pop­u­la­tions of tur­tles and un­der­mines public sen­si­ti­za­tion drives. In her own words, “As tur­tles are en­dan­gered, it is ir­re­spon­si­ble to per­mit har­vest­ing of any por­tion of the species with­out con­duct­ing reg­u­lar mon­i­tor­ing to as­sess pop­u­la­tion re­sponses”. Such mon­i­tor­ing, of course, re­quires ad­e­quate hu­man and phys­i­cal re­sources which are seem­ingly not avail­able. She cites “in­suf­fi­cient ca­pac­ity at the Depart­ment of Fish­eries” and this un­doubt­edly con­trib­utes to the fail­ure in mon­i­tor­ing ex­ist­ing tur­tle pop­u­la­tions. Since lit­tle is done to mon­i­tor tur­tle num­bers and “the Depart­ment of Fish­eries does not mon­i­tor catches”, Dr. Felix af­firms that we are “un­aware what our pop­u­la­tion size is for each specie.” With the ab­sence of such knowl­edge, why do pol­i­cy­mak­ers al­low our tur­tles to be fished? Why en­cour­age the con­ser­va­tion of tur­tles for a few months and then give per­mis­sion for them to be killed in the sub­se­quent months? Why adopt a “let them lay be­fore we kill them” pol­icy in the face of mount­ing calls for the en­force­ment of ex­ist­ing con­ser­va­tion laws? If we are in­deed se­ri­ous about tur­tle con­ser­va­tion, why en­dorse what is ob­vi­ously a thought­less ven­ture?

Dr. Felix be­lieves that “there should be a re­gional ap­proach to the man­age­ment of the species.” This is nec­es­sary as tur­tles are “mi­gra­tory species” and “pop­u­la­tions are likely to be shared with other is­lands.” There­fore any con­ser­va­tion pro­gramme should take into ac­count the mi­gra­tory na­ture of tur­tles. Per­haps this is an ideal op­por­tu­nity for re­gional bod­ies such as the O.E.C.S. and WIDECAST (Wider Caribbean Sea Tur­tle Net­work) to act as fa­cil­i­ta­tors of such a col­lab­o­ra­tion. Our re­sources are few but may be more ef­fec­tive in a col­lab­o­ra­tive set­ting. Our re­gional gov­ern­ments need to en­sure that their ac­tions and poli­cies show that they are se­ri­ous about tur­tle con­ser­va­tion. Fail­ure to tackle the is­sue will con­tinue to un­der­mine the ef­forts of con­ser­va­tion­ists and will not de­ter poach­ers. Af­ter all, do we not make it le­gal for tur­tles to be killed at cer­tain times of the year?

A tur­tle nest­ing on the Grande Anse beach.

Illegal sand min­ing and tur­tle poach­ing is a com­mon

prac­tice at the Grande Anse Bay!

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