A large nesting turtle was rescued after being dragged off a West Bay beach by poachers – the fifth recorded instance of suspected turtle poaching this year.
Responding to a tip from a member of the public, in the early hours of Wednesday, Chief Conservation Officer Mark Orr followed drag marks in the sand leading off the beach and into the bushes where he found the turtle lying on its back with its flippers tied together.
The turtle, which had previously been tagged by researchers, was released and returned to the ocean but the culprits were not caught. Mr. Orr said they were not on the scene when he found the turtle.
“I am not sure if I disturbed them in the act as I was searching on the beach or if they had pulled the turtle up out of sight and gone to get a truck or some assistance in carrying it off,” he said.
Mr. Orr said the latest incident was particularly concerning as it appeared to be a case of poachers strategically targeting a nesting beach, rather than an opportunist crime.
“There is no other reason for them to have been on that beach at that time of night,” he added.
The Department of Environment has enforcement officers policing the beaches overnight during nesting season while researchers are also out gathering data and providing information on alleged incidents of poaching.
Mr. Orr said there were at least two other incidents in which poachers had been scared off this year and two more in which they appeared to have been successful.
He said enforcement officers had discovered drag marks where the turtles had been taken off the beach and were also investigating reports of black market turtle meat being sold.
He said his officers were actively patrolling beaches where poaching activity was suspected.
Offenders face the possibility of fines of up to $500,000, the confiscation of their equipment and up to four years in jail.
He added, “These are people that don’t care about our heritage or our wildlife. They are simply looking for fast, easy bucks.”
This incident had a happy ending. The turtle returned to the beach the following night to lay its nest.
“We sat up all night, keeping watch while she nested,” Mr. Orr said. “Seeing her head back to the sea safely was a beautiful feeling.”
Nesting turtles typically lay three to six times in nests during a season, returning to the same beach each time. This turtle had previously been tagged by researchers and had laid two nests during the season.