Sunday, February 8, 2009

Turtles following in the foot step of the dodo?

The other day a friend of mine overheard someone telling a group of tourists that Seychellois looked forward to Christmas because December was the one month of the year that they were allowed to harvest and eat turtles!!

How wrong can you be? Granted this time of the year you are more likely to get to see a turtle but that is because turtles travel sometimes hundreds of miles during the nesting season to Seychelles to lay their eggs, Carol being a prime example!

Green turtles nesting in Seychelles migrate from their feeding grounds in the Mozambique channel.

Some people argue that there are plenty of turtles. A man might say “I have seen 6 turtles in as many weeks come up this beach, surely if I was to take one it wouldn’t matter”. We know that only female turtles come onto the beach and they come once every two weeks for perhaps 4 or 5 times during the nesting season to lay their eggs. It would therefore be reasonable to assume if you saw a turtle come up the beach every week for 6 weeks what you are actually seeing is 2 turtles, not 6, coming up on alternate weeks to lay their eggs. If you kill one of them, you have reduced the present turtle population on that beach by 50%, take another turtle and they are ... all gone.

Bearing in mind the many hazards that befall a baby turtle in the nest, on the beach and in the sea, even if all the eggs from a single nesting female hatch out with the hatchlings successfully reaching the sea, only one or two might survive to maturity and make it back to that beach to lay their eggs. It would take about 25 to 30 years for that to happen but the big questions is, would the shaded sandy beach crest well above the high water mark still be there or would it, by then, have been developed into a sea wall or even a road.

I read somewhere that it was about 200 million years ago that the first turtle like creatures existed and that from this common ancestor, evolved all turtles and tortoises. Seventy five to 150 million years ago the first sea turtles put in an appearance, and 65 million years ago the turtles were much as we know them today but in great abundance. Only 20 million years ago, however, mankind came into existence and in just this last short century, we have brought the turtles to the brink of extinction!
Archelon, the largest pre-historic sea turtle, photo Black Hills institute of Geological Research

There are local and international laws now which protect the turtle. Here in the Seychelles, the law is clear, to be caught in possession of turtle meat could result in being fined SR 500,000 or having to serve a 2 year prison sentence.

You may think that now, when we can go to the super market and get steak, lamb, chicken or pork, no one needs to eat turtle meat. Well you’d be wrong.

Some people will eat it when they can, in spite of the law. Just a few weeks ago a friend of mine was an unwitting dinner guest where the special beef curry to her horror turned out to be green turtle meat! It would appear that we can’t win everyone over; there will always be those who do not want to know. I think our hope lies with the children, the next generation, so we must not give up trying to change these peoples mindset. Remember the Dodos? It’s too late for them, but hopefully it’s not yet too late for the turtle.

What do you think?

... thoughts from Patricia

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