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Cry to save turtles

SEAN DOUGLAS Saturday, December 27 2003

Two American tourists are pleading for a ban on the killing of the turtles off Tobago, and their call is being supported by former Independent Senator, Prof Julien Kenny. According to Save Our Sea-turtles (SOS) Tobago, a loophole in the law allows the hunting of turtles for five months of the year outside of 1,000 yards from shore. In a recent letter to the TT media, Matt and Mary Kelly of New Ashford, Massachusetts, USA, lamented recently seeing fishermen kill a Green Turtle at Kilgwyn Beach, Tobago.

The Kellys recounted: “They had caught the hapless creature in a net stretched across the well-known beds of ancestral feeding grounds of this now endangered sea turtle...Two honorary game wardens were present in our group vested with full authority to handle wildlife violations. They were angered and distraught to see this turtle taken, but said they were helpless to stop the situation, because of a loophole in the wildlife laws of TT.” Saying  Leatherback Turtles also were regularly slaughtered in Tobago, the Kelly’s said: “Tobago has developed a negative reputation in the international environmental community for lax protection of sea turtles, and has been the target of environmental campaigns from organisations such as Sea Shepherd Conservation Society...Progressive nations around the globe has strict laws in place regarding the taking and especially the possession of endangered species in whole or in part. If Tobago is truly to be known as an eco-island, there must be some quick and serious revision in this island’s wildlife laws.”

Saying the sea turtles’ future now hung in the balance, the Kelly’s asked: “Do residents of TT wish to see these beautiful animals only in postage stamps?”. Zoologist Prof Julien Kenny, endorsed the Kelly’s concerns. He told Newsday: “Green turtles are very rare and are highly, highly endangered. All marine turtles are endangered. They are under considerable pressure from fishing and accidents.” Saying our laws are antiquated, Kenny explained: “You could still catch turtles with impunity. The slaughter continues in Tobago. Despite the EMA, the IMA and the laws, people still act outside the law and abuse the existing laws.” Kenny urged a revision of the law which he lamented was merely an ordnance, calling for  a complete ban on catching turtles. “In practice this may be hard to do as turtles still inadvertently get caught in fishing nets. But you can stop people selling turtles. In Tobago they net turtles deliberately.” Kenny concluded: “It’s tragic that there is no real outcry in this society.”

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