Men sentenced for taking turtle

Four men who pleaded guilty to taking a turtle during closed season and possession of a turtle without a license were sentenced by Magistrate Grace Donalds on Thursday, 1 October.

Adrian David Ebanks, Androy Daniel Ebanks and John William McLean received 120 hours of community service and fines of $2000 each.

The fourth man, Charles Edward Pars, was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and $1000.

The three men fined $2000 were given six months to pay the fines, as their lawyers indicated that the men earned a wage of about $500 a week on the sea, while Pars was given a month to pay.

All four men listed their occupation as fishermen.

Crown Counsel Alister Cumming said on the morning of September 30, 2008, just after 7am, officers received a call saying a turtle was spotted on a vessel in the George Town area.

When police got to the location, next to Hammerheads Bar and Grill, the boat in question was pulling away. However, police managed to intercept the vessel several miles off shore.

Once stopped, a man on the boat said, ‘I know why you stopped me. I was going to release it.’

The officers then conducted an inspection of the boat, at which time a dead turtle was found and removed.

During a subsequent police interview, the men said they had loaded the turtle onto Pars’ vessel, as it was too big for any other boat at their disposal.

They said they had hooked the turtle by mistake. However, an inspection by a marine biologist found the wounds on the animal were inconsistent with this explanation. The biologist also discovered the turtle was full of eggs.

The cause of death was ruled as a broken neck.

The turtle the men caught was one of the biggest ever found in the wild and said to be nesting in the Cayman Islands for over 20 years, making the animal at least 30 to 40 years old.

Turtles begin breeding at 10 years of age and can lay up to 600 eggs per season, though only few of these will reach adulthood.

All of the men are said to have previous convictions, according to Cumming, who also asked that the boat the turtle was found on be forfeited and a recovery fee of $6,000 be paid.

Benjamin Tonner, who represented both Mssrs Ebanks and Mr. McLean, said his clients were out fishing at the 12 Mile Bank, when they saw what they thought was a log.

The men threw their lines over hoping to catch something. Tonner said it was common fishing practice to try to catch fish close to a drift.

However, the hook of one of them men’s lines caught in the turtle’s neck, according to the attorney. Mr. Tonner added that they thought the injuries would be fatal and even though taking the turtle out of the water is illegal, the men wanted to save the creature’s life.

Mr. Pars, who was fishing on a separate vessel, was then called by the men to assist with the turtle, as it was too large for their boat.

Mr. Tonner said the men contacted the Turtle Farm but were told that the farm could not take the turtle and referred to the Department of Environment, where the men left a message with their numbers.

The attorney added that he could produce a letter from the manager of the Turtle Farm at the time.

‘They had no intention of killing it but saving it,’ declared Mr. Tonner. He said the men had ample time to butcher the turtle and sell it, as they were in possession of it for almost a day before the police made contact with them.

In arguing on Pars’ behalf, Attorney Nicholas Dixey said his client was returning the turtle to the other men when he was intercepted.

He said Pars had worked the sea for 28 years and had an exemplary reputation among his fellow seamen.

He added that the fisherman’s previous charges were not related to his marine interaction.

Both attorneys asked for community service for their clients and acknowledged that this was a crime against the community and its heritage.

Mr. Pars and the other defendants addressed the court and apologised for their actions.

Mrs. Donalds then sentenced the men to community service and fines, bringing the proceedings to a close.