Turtle nesting on Mathura beach. Photo: Nature Seekers
By Sue-Ann Wayow
THERE has been an increase in poaching of endangered sea turtles in both Trinidad and Tobago, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) has reported.
In a press release on Wednesday, the EMA stated that the decision to halt beach patrols last year due to Covid-19 protocols resulted in the increased harm being done to the turtles during its annual nesting season that is presently in effect.
The combined strategy of community-based patrols, presence of researchers, tour guides and the public during the nesting season worked well to stave off poachers and facilitate monitoring of population abundance and distribution, the EMA stated, a work which was interrupted last year especially with the public closure of beaches.
The EMA stated, “In 2021, the EMA is concerned that in order to prevent the poaching of sea turtles during the nesting season from March to August, there is a need for proper monitoring of beaches and areas where sea turtles nest. Whilst the law-abiding public continue to comply with the regulations, poachers have been taking chances to kill turtles as they come ashore to nest and take eggs as they believe this will go undetected in the absence of enforcement personnel on the beaches in keeping with the stipulation that beaches are to remain closed between 6pm and 6am.”
The EMA continued, “The EMA in assessing potential strategies to combat this wildlife crime, considers that community-based conservationists with the support of the TTPS and the Forestry Division are best placed to maintain a watchful eye over the sea turtles, mitigating Covid-19 risks by adhering to preventative measures in place.”
The EMA added that such monitoring will facilitate crucial data collection on nesting sea turtles particularly as Trinidad and Tobago represents the nesting site for the largest leatherback turtle population in the Northwest Atlantic (NWA).
T&T is part of the NWA Leatherback Working Group consisting of 17 countries and territories. Collectively this group contributed to the development of an assessment report that reflects the current status of the NWA Leatherback Turtle. The NWA Leatherback Turtle Status Assessment has since prompted an assessment and reclassification by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List (IUCN Red List). The NWA Leatherback Turtle Subpopulation in July 2019 was reclassified from Least Concern to Endangered.
The EMA is hopeful that stakeholders will address the need for active enforcement and the importance of data collection during the turtle-nesting season in a responsible manner and that a dialogue with public health officials can identify appropriate solutions for conservationists to operate with minimal risk, the Authority stated.
Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) has also written to Health Minister Terrance Deyalsingh asking that such monitoring and patrol be allowed.
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