A dead green sea turtle measuring four feet long and weighing close to 400 pounds was found on board a local fishing boat that was stopped by marine enforcement officers outside George Town harbour Wednesday morning.
The female turtle, one of the largest Department of Environment officers have ever seen, had been tied up and stored in a large ice chest on board the vessel Tuesday. DoE officers believe the creature died sometime during the night while the boat was docked at George Town harbour.
Acting on a tip from the public, DoE officers followed and stopped the fishing vessel, Miss Shelene, about four miles outside of the harbour. Marine Enforcement Officers Mark Orr and Ronnie Dougall boarded the craft and found the turtle dead in the fish hold.
‘It had ropes tied to its front flippers which were used to haul it into the boat,’ Mr. Orr said.
The lone man on board the vessel was taken into custody by police after DoE officers piloted it back to the harbour. He did not have a turtling licence and, in any case, it is not turtle fishing season.
Poaching turtles is illegal in the Cayman Islands at all times unless a person owns a DoE-issued turtling licence. Turtles are also protected during nesting season, which runs from April through November.
Officers did not believe it was possible for one man to pull such a large turtle onto the boat by himself, so investigations were continuing to determine whether anyone else was involved.
DoE Research Officer Janice Blumenthal said a necropsy would be done on the turtle at Saint Matthews University veterinary school Wednesday afternoon. Ms Blumenthal said vets would be able to determine whether the turtle was coming to Cayman to nest.
‘It was a fully developed adult female turtle,’ Ms Blumenthal said. ‘It is well larger than any of the nesting turtles we’ve measured on the beach.’
There have been a few instances of turtle poaching reported to DoE officials this year. In one case, a female loggerhead turtle was found alive, hidden in some bushes near an East End beach. Enforcement officers were able to save that turtle.
Another green sea turtle was not so lucky in July. Marine officers were only able to find drag marks on the beach near Morritts Tortuga resort in East End where a nesting turtle had apparently been taken.
DoE officials believe poachers generally wait until a turtle comes onto the beach to lay eggs before taking them. In this latest case, it’s believed the creature was taken from the water.