Aug. 14, 2006 – One was killed for her eggs and meat, another was caught in a discarded fishing line, one was attacked by dogs, and a fourth was struck by a boat and left with a "severe and deadly fracture wound" to her shell. She died.
Those were the fates of at least four sea turtles in the month of July on St. Croix.
It happens regularly. Turtles are found dead – the victims of boat strikes, dogs, and other predators and poachers.
The July data was complied by the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rescue (STAR) network, made up of individuals from West Indies Marine Animal Research and Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources – Division of Fish and Wildlife, and The Ocean Conservancy.
STAR wants to remind residents that penalties are serious for the harassing, harming, capturing or collecting of sea turtles or their eggs. All sea turtles are designated as either threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Penalties, according to a release sent Monday from U.S. Fish and Wildlife, can be up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, and can include confiscation of any equipment used during the criminal act. Sentences seldom come close to the maximum, however.
STAR member Claudia D. Lombard said usually those convicted under the act – as three St. Croix residents were in recent years – get a year suspended sentence.
Lombard said Monday night, "The death of any endangered species is tragic, but when it is a reproductive adult … it affects future generations."
On St. Croix it is always nesting season for one of the local turtle species, which include leatherbacks, hawksbills and green sea turtles, Lombard said. And the hawksbills are not picky about where they nest. Lombard said a study done in the last few years revealed that hawksbills have been seen nesting on every single beach on St. Croix.
Currently, it is the end of leatherback nesting season and the beginning for hawksbills and green sea turtles.
Predators are not the only problem facing the turtles – especially the hatchlings. Any light source near a nesting beach can cause the turtles to become disoriented and not find their way to the sea
Lombard said reporting the stranding of the turtles is important, not only in order to try and save lives, but also for research. She said biologists – which Lombard is – have plenty of data on nesting turtles, but little information about their lives at sea.
"Any information on strandings that are reported can help biologists understand more about the turtles."
But few strandings are discovered or reported. She estimated that the four in July could be as little as 10 percent of actual deaths or strandings.
The story of the turtles with the fishing line wrapped around its flipper has a happy ending. It lived. So did the one attacked by dogs. Someone chased off the dogs and released the turtle back to the sea – however, most likely with wounds to her back flippers.
Fish and Wildlife provided a list of things people can do to protect the endangered turtles:
— if you encounter a dead sea turtle or a live, debilitated turtle please call STAR at 1-877-3-TURTLE (1-877- 388-7853);
— report any suspicious or criminal activities related to sea turtles to STAR (1-877-3-TURTLE) (1-877-388-7853) or V.I. Police Department at 911;
— operate boats at safe and responsible speeds;
— always keep dogs on a leash when on a beach;
— keep beaches clean by disposing of trash properly;
— turn off lights close to beaches to avoid disorientation of nesting sea turtles and hatchlings;
— if you encounter a nesting sea turtle, keep your distance, turn off all lights, and do not disturb.
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