Environment officials are concerned about an apparent rise in poaching despite new legislation increasing the powers of conservation enforcement officers and providing new legal protection for a variety of species.
In the last 10 days, conservation officers foiled an attempt to drag a nesting turtle off a West Bay beach and intercepted two spearfishermen with a large haul of fish, conch and lobster taken illegally from the Frank Sound Replenishment Zone.
Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, said she was “very concerned” about an increase in “crimes against the environment” and appealed to the public to be the “eyes and ears” of the department by reporting any suspicious activity.
She acknowledged that elements of the National Conservation Law gave the department’s conservation officers a wider range of species and potentially a wider area of protected zones on land and sea to police, without any proportionate increase in staff numbers.
She said the department was working on ways to broaden enforcement without adding staff but needed public support. A smartphone app, currently in development, will allow people to identify when they were in a protected zone, to access the rules and regulations for that area and to report wrongdoing.
The Department of Environment has previously looked into the possibility of using drones to increase its enforcement capability, and Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said it would seek to use technology wherever possible.
“We are not getting any new conservation officers but we are always looking at ways to improve our efficiency,” she said.
Environment Minister Wayne Panton said the National Conservation Law also created new powers for conservation enforcement officers, some of whom now wear stab vests and carry batons and Taser stun guns.
“The law gives them powers of arrest and equipment that enables them to effectively carry out that enforcement role,” he said.
Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said enforcement officers now had the same powers as police constables for enforcing conservation laws.
“From an efficiency and effectiveness perspective, the officers themselves are operating at a much higher level and we are hoping that will help in some measure in relation to the increase that we are seeing,” she said.
Asked if the department’s roster of eight conservation enforcement officers was enough to cover the responsibilities, including potentially policing new marine park zones and a schedule of newly protected species, she said, “That’s all a matter of perspective. There are many larger countries that don’t have that many officers, It certainly isn’t sufficient to allow us to operate as a police force, with shifts and things like that.
“We do have various provisions that allow our officers to cover the coastline 24/7 with the budget we have.”