The graphically gory photos of slaughtered pregnant turtles on Grand Anse Beach seared the eyes and minds of many who viewed them on Facebook earlier this month. A Change.org petition went out hours later, calling for the Government of Saint Lucia to enforce the laws to protect leatherbacks and other endangered turtles, gathering more than 900 signatures since then.
There is no doubt that there are good folks in Desbarras, who work hard to protect the magnificent natural wonders that frequent their remote beach, and the turtle-watching program has developed over the years since it was established. But there are also thoughtless, heartless, murderous criminals who either don’t know or don’t care that turtles are protected by international and local laws.
But let’s be honest, even if you didn’t know, how could anyone watch the spectacle of a lumbering leatherback hauling out of the ocean and onto this beach—where she herself probably hatched a decade ago—to bear dozens of fragile eggs in a long, strenuous labour, then wield a machete and desecrate this creature? How is that the action of a humane human?
Clearly the turtle poachers don’t care; about animals, about people and their (legal and ethical) livelihoods, about preservation of their home and conservation of the planet. It’s unlikely their thought processes progress to caring about the impact that this type of savagery splashed all over social networks has on the island’s reputation among tourists, who are truly shocked that we do not act more civilised towards our wildlife in this day and age.
Tourists like Linda and Kyle from Texas, who I was happy to meet onboard local charter company Jus’ Sail’s Good Expectation last Monday as I threw myself into an assignment for Tropical Traveller —those are the days I love my job the most. Here for a week from Texas, the irrepressible Linda had one desire—to see a turtle—but despite this being the couple’s second outing with Jus’ Sail, so far nada.
An hour into the sail, a shout from first mate O’Brian came a nanosecond too late, and we sighed disappointed.
Skipper James Crockett, co-owner of Jus’ Sail with wife Pepsi, is a sustainable development consultant and expert in ocean conservation; he explained that sometimes even a shout to alert the passengers can send these shy creatures undersea where they can swim without surfacing for substantial periods.
Resigned, we continued to watch the steel blue waves for an ET-shaped green noggin to poke above the surface, as James sailed the restored Carriacou sloop towards a quiet cove near Choc Bay so the visitors could swim and snorkle.Another yell from O’Brian, followed by “what the hell IS that?” had everyone onboard focusing their laser gaze at an oddly-shaped but definite green and scaly mass in the water about fifty feet from the boat.
I was momentarily horrified as the thought struck that it might be another dead turtle, another slaughtered carcass, this time floating in front of a bunch of happy tourists whose one wish was to spy a rare sight off Saint Lucia’s shores. As we squinted into the lowering sun, James put us out of our misery when he finally realised that we were watching a pair of adult green turtles indulging in a little afternoon delight before sunset!
Yes indeed, two turtles mating—a sight of such rarity that the well-travelled James has only once seen something similar in the Galapagos Islands. You know, the place where they jealously protect their precious wildlife and its habitats, and where thousands of careful eco-tourists make a pilgrimage to admire and support the protected environment, right?
As we circled round the amorous twosome—well, you would have too!—the sheer spontaneous joy of the moment seized everyone and there was a collective roar of “omigod, I just cannot believe what I’m seeing!!” We strained to get a better look—I swear mate was grinning all over his little green face as he bobbed up and down on the poor half-submerged madam—and eventually they sank beneath the waves, like a reptilian Jack and Rose only with a happy ending, and perhaps a post-coital snack.
I think I must describe the feeling as “wonder” because I don’t remember feeling that sense before. Seeing something so rare for the first time means probably for the last too, and as I shot a few minutes of video I also wondered at technology that would (and thankfully did) save the moment forever.
The faces onboard that good ship were beaming, disbelief remained the reigning emotion and, even after a good snorkel, Linda was all talk about the fantastic thing she had witnessed in her new favourite vacationing spot—Saint Lucia. The rum-tasting fueled more thrilled discussions – but that’s another article altogether!
So now I’m turtle-obsessed and determined to make it to Desbarras to experience the spectacle for myself, and to support those guardians of nature who need all the help they can get to stop the slaughter.
Who’s with me?