Sunday, February 8, 2009

Illegal harvesting of Turtles

Not so long ago I wrote a post about the legal harvest of turtles in times past. Today I am writing about the present day illegal harvesting of turtles.

Anyone following this blog will know that I am the better half of Marcel, a dedicated MCSS turtle conservation officer. Over the years we have seen many turtles nesting on our beach but sad to say, we have been aware that some of the turtles that have come up the beaches to nest have not made it back to the sea. In order to deter such happenings, we have tried to put in a presence on not only the beach in front of our home, but on the more remote neighbouring beaches in the South, in the hope that a physical presence would be enough to dissuade any potential poachers.

Marcel, a dedicated turtle conservationist, photo Patricia Mathiot

Often we have wondered how on earth the poachers manage to transport their illegal booty from more out of the way places where it is unsafe to land a boat, and too difficult and too far to travel on foot. This was all made clear to us shortly before Christmas when Marcel thwarted an attempted poaching.

He likes to go fishing in the late afternoon, just for an hour or two. Apart from keeping the freezer well stocked it also gives him the opportunity to see if there are any turtle tracks on the more southerly and awkward to get to beaches.

He was doing a bit of trawling just off Capuchin beach, a little closer to shore than normal as the sea was very calm, when he heard the unmistakable sound of sand clattering against a turtle carapace. Although he was unable to see the turtle, there were fresh turtle tracks going up the beach and none coming back down. He decided to wait and watch the turtle make her way safely back into the sea.
Capuchin beach, the southern most beach on the South east coast of Mahe, photo Guy Blain.

A short while later, a turtle emerged from behind the beach crest and made her way, laboriously towards the sea. There seemed to be something wrong with her, and then Marcel noticed that she was dragging something behind her. As she got nearer he saw that it was a buoy tied to her right front flipper with a length of cord. It really was slowing her down.

Once in the water she seemed to flounder somewhat and no matter how hard she tried she could not dive because of the buoy. Marcel moved the boat up close to her. He was horrified to find that the cord tethering her to the buoy was so tight he could not slip his knife under it to cut it and release her. Turning her flipper over, he saw that the cord was secured with a large fishhook. Worried now that the poor turtle could lose her flipper as the tight cord was biting into her flesh, he concentrated on releasing her giving little thought to the poachers who must be near at hand.

At last he was able to cut her loose and as she swam away, he looked around to see if anyone was nearby but because it had taken a while to rescue the turtle, the would-be poachers had plenty of time to move on.

Hawksbill turtle are quick and agile in the water, photo David Rowat

It would appear that this poor beast had been tethered to a buoy as she laid her eggs, for that is the only time she would have been still. Once she was back in the water it would have been easy for the poachers to collect her and pull her along behind the boat to where they could butcher her, away from prying eyes.

We had saved one turtle that day and in the process learnt another way in which poachers kill turtles on hard to get to beaches in Seychelles.

... thoughts from Patricia

1 comment:

Patricia said...

I just want to point out before any one else,that Marcel was trolling as in dragging a lure on a line behind his boat and not trawling. Also it was at Anse Capucin not Anse Capuchin. I gues that you have an over enthusiastic spell check. from Patricia