Sea turtle poaching on the rise |20 December 2019
The Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change has sent out a cautionary call after it recorded a significant increase in sea turtle poaching since the start of this year’s nesting season.
According to Ashley Dias, the director of biodiversity conservation, her section has recorded a total of 13 confirmed cases of turtle poaching since mid-September compared to eight confirmed cases from September 2018 to early March this year.
“This increase is a huge concern for us,” expressed Ms Dias.
The ministry of environment has increased its monitoring and patrol of nesting beaches which they conduct on an almost 24/7 basis, particularly during odd hours and on weekends.
Ms Dias added that they have also sought assistance from the marine police to curb poaching activities which are occurring on the sea.
“We have limited resources and can only deal with the poaching incidents which happen on land. Additionally, we are urging the police force to become more vigilant during their patrols.”
Non-government organisations (NGOs) are also providing a helping hand in protecting the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle and various educational campaigns are in place to create awareness.
As for the public, Ms Dias said that they play a key role in identifying and reporting illegal poaching activities, and therefore they should report on any poaching incidents they might encounter through the Green Line (Tel : 722111).
However Ms Dias has said that the public should be more detailed when they provide a report because this will allow the ministry to gain more leads for a conviction.
“Often we cannot move forward with a case because of a lack of information so if you spot someone involved in poaching, try to look for a plate number or any crucial detail,” she advised.
But with all the monitoring on sea and shores, who is monitoring social media where people occasionally posts photos of cooked turtle meat or ‘manze rar’?
“Yes, this is one of greatest struggles. We have previously approached the police to make a case against these persons but the police have responded that the evidence is insufficient,” Ms Dias replied.
“Simply put, this matter is not captured in any legislation but we are working to revise the Wild Animals and Birds Protection Act next year to update the law. It is a very outdated piece of legislation which requires some amendments to better fit into the present context.”
Ms Dias noted that consultations surrounding the law will particularly focus on the penalties for poaching, which she feels needs to be more rigid.
The fine for poaching of endangered animals currently stands at a maximum of R500,000 but Ms Dias said most perpetrators have been fined less than this amount.
She revealed that the number of people who have gone to prison for these crimes is extremely low and added that the prosecution of these cases often take time.
“We need people and other supporting organisations to understand that environmental crimes are as severe as other cases,” she stressed.
“Seychelles is recognised for its best environmental practices in the region and across the world, and we should work towards maintaining this recognition. We also need a change in cultural mindset to protect our environment and its biodiversity for the generations to come.”
An additional constraint to the protection of sea turtles involves tourists who approach and disturb nesting turtles, and which results in the turtles returning back to the ocean without having laid their eggs.
Sea turtles return to the beach they were born on to nest and sometimes will not come back to the same beach if they are disturbed.
“The ministry is working on re-introducing information boards on nesting beaches to discourage this trend as well as provide pamphlets on the subject in various tourism establishments,” Ms Dias said.
According to Ms Dias, the biodiversity section is set on pushing for stricter marine species protection in 2020 as much as it possibly can.