On Friday night, April 26, a small group of persons visited the Grand Anse Beach, on the north-east coast of the island. The main reason for the visit was for Dr Marie-Louise Felix to assess the status of the nesting leatherback marine turtles with the intention of reporting the findings to former members of the St Lucia Naturalists’ Society. Conservation of the marine turtles in St Lucia was a major focal point of the Naturalists’ Society in the 1980’s and 90’s.
Dr Felix was accompanied by a small team of friends from the Rendezvous Hotel and two officers of the St Lucia Marine Police. Within an hour of walking the beach, the small team observed obvious signs of poachers and then shortly afterwards encountered two young men. The young men were briefly questioned by the marine police and then allowed to continue their beach walk as they claimed to be simply hunting for crabs. Within half an hour of returning to the spot where the young men were encountered, the turtle enthusiasts and law enforcers were greeted with the most gruesome scene. The remains of a slaughtered leatherback turtle.
What do we know about the leatherback marine turtle Dermochelys coriacea? For starters, it is the largest marine turtle in the world. It swims faster and dives deeper than any other marine turtle. It migrates thousands of miles every 1 – 2 years to nest, as its feeding grounds are some distance from its nesting sites. Research has shown that the leatherbacks that nest in the Caribbean travel across the Atlantic to reach the islands.
Turtles return to the beach of their birth to nest. This means that the turtles that are being slaughtered at Grande Anse were hatched there 15 – 50 years ago and have travelled across the Atlantic to return to their homeland to nest.
The plight of the leatherback sea turtle is of global concern. The species is listed by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) as being “critically endangered”. This means that the species runs the risk of becoming extinct in a short period of time if action is not taken to protect existing populations.
Globally, action is being taken to protect the leatherback and other marine turtles in order to ensure their survival. In many countries, marine turtles are completely protected on land and at sea. This means that it is illegal to hunt, fish, harvest and consume the adults, juveniles and eggs. Nesting areas are also protected and carefully monitored during the nesting seasons. The current unprecedented slaughter of the leatherback turtles at the Grande Anse beach combined with the wide-scale sand mining that has reduced nesting habitat on this beach by more than 50 percent, paints a bleak picture for the future of the species.
Sand Mining Pit, Grande Anse Beach, 26 April. This has doubled in size since mid-March, (2013).
Action needs to be taken now. This is truly our last chance to save our sea turtles. What a pity that turtles that travel thousands of miles to nest in the Caribbean are destroyed in the manner as is ongoing at Grande Anse Beach.