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BOAT SPEEDERS TAKE TURTLES' LIVES IN THEIR HANDS

July 18, 2003 – Speeding can be deadly — to drivers, their passengers and those they might strike. That's true not only on land but also on the water, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brought home with a release issued on Thursday.
"Exhibit A" distributed to the news media along with the release was the photograph pictured here. It is of the body of a dead green sea turtle found last Saturday on a beach just west of the Tamarind Reef Hotel and Green Cay Marina.
National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service personnel found the turtle's remains when they responded to a telephone call from a concerned citizen.
"The turtle had a large impact wound that crushed the upper part of the carapace (shell) close to the head," the release stated. "The cause of death appeared to be the result of a boat strike."
Powerboats traveling at high speeds "are quite common in the vicinity of Green Cay National Wildlife Refuge and Buck Island National Monument," according to the release. And boaters traveling as high speeds, it noted, "will not see surfaced turtles in order to avoid them, or will see them but not have time to avoid them."
Green sea turtles and the two other species of sea turtles that nest in the Virgin Islands — the leatherback and the hawksbill — are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The law makes it a federal crime to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, trap, kill, capture or collect such species.
As the release noted: "Sea turtles are air-breathing reptiles and need to surface regularly in order to breathe." They also spend time on the surface of the water "basking in the sun and while mating" and are susceptible to being struck at such times by motor vessels traveling at a high rate of speed.
Authorities will probably never know what struck the green sea turtle, or under what circumstances. But they already know that boat strikes, poaching and entanglement of fishing gear account for most of the turtle "strandings" in the Virgin Islands.
The agencies use the term "stranding" to refer to any turtle either found dead or recovered from a threatening situation and released safely at sea. In the territory, strandings are usually reported by citizens and may be investigated by the NPS, the Fish and Wildlife Service or the Fish and Wildlife Division of the V.I. Planning and Natural Resources Department. All three agencies collect data and maintain records on strandings.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. It manages the National Wildlife Refuge System covering 94 million acres that include more than 540 national wildlife refuges and thousands of small wetlands; operates fish hatcheries, fishery resource offices and ecological services field stations; and oversees a federal program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies.
The federal agency is appealing to the boating public "to act responsibly and travel at reasonable speeds to prevent endangering sea turtles."
Sea turtle strandings should be reported on St. Croix to the Fish and Wildlife Service at 773-4554 or 690-9451, the National Park Service at 773-1460, or DPNR at 773-5774. They should be reported on St. Thomas-St. John to DPNR at 776-8600 or 775-6762, or NPS at 693-8201or 714-9529.

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