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ILLEGAL SEA TURTLE HARVESTING IN VIEUX FORT PROTECTED AREA

[Press Release] The Saint Lucia National Trust (SLNT) is working with the Department of Fisheries in response to two incidents of illegal sea turtle harvesting within the Pointe Sable Environmental Protection Area (PSEPA) in Vieux-Fort.

The first incident occurred last week when some concerned citizens came upon a turtle net in which four juvenile marine turtles were caught. Noting that it was the closed season for hunting of sea turtles, the citizens informed the SLNT and the Department of Fisheries (DOF) of their discovery.

In addition, over the past weekend, a tour guide engaged in a sanctioned expedition to the Maria Islands Wildlife Reserve discovered a freshly culled sea turtle, the carcass of which was partially buried on the Maria Island beach. The guests who were part of the expedition felt quite dismayed about the discovery and expressed their disdain for this illegal act.

Both incidents are currently under investigation. However, according to Mr. Craig Henry, SLNT’s Programme Officer stationed within the PSEPA, “These acts particularly the latter are most regrettable and punishable by law. The closed season for turtles extends from January 1 to September 30 which coincides with sea turtle nesting season. The beaches of the PSEPA nests thousands of turtle hatchlings yearly due to the various species of marine turtles that make their way to the shores to lay their eggs. Sadly, the number of nesting females has decreased over the years as a result of mainly poaching activity”.

“The SLNT has made the protection and conservation of these critically endangered species a major priority,” commented Mr. Henry. He added, “We have worked very closely with likeminded external and local partners to promote the sustainable use of the resource as Saint Lucia still has a traditional harvest of the fishery”.

However, failing populations of the major species like the hawksbills and leatherbacks, combined with the fervor and fondness of these marine animals have driven public pressure to act to conserve them. In this light, many Caribbean Islands have either banned or legislated more restricted policies regarding the harvest of marine turtles. This includes Barbados, Bahamas, Cuba, Antigua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and most recently Mexico.

A leatherback sea turtle.

On a related note, the SLNT would also like to remind the public that access to the Maria Islands Wildlife Reserve is regulated by the Trust as it is a protected habitat for some critical species including the marine turtles which come to nest on its beaches and thus anyone wishing to visit the islets are to contact the organization directly to arrange this visit. Any unsanctioned visit would be considered an illegal act.

The Saint Lucia National Trust encourages anyone with information which could lead to the arrest of the perpetrators to contact the local police in Vieux-Fort. The SLNT is also appealing to the general public to support conservation efforts to protect sea turtles island-wide. For more information on these conservation initiatives please contact the Saint Lucia National Trust at 454-5014 or the Department of Fisheries at 468-4741. Contact can also be made via email – southofficer@slunatrust.org.

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