A Facebook photo showing the rescue of a leatherback turtle from poachers in Manzanilla has gone viral, and conservationists are warning that prison awaits those who injure or kill the creatures.
Honorary game warden Stephen Broadbridge, who is also a director at the Papa Bois Conservation group, said the fishing and tourism industries are hurt when the endangered leatherback turtles are harmed.
Broadbridge, the owner of Caribbean Discovery Tours, warned that anyone caught harming them during the turtle-watching season will be arrested and charged by game wardens who will be monitoring beach activity during this time.
A photograph posted on social networking website Facebook showed honorary game wardens rescuing a leatherback turtle from poachers at Manzanilla Beach last weekend.
The turtle in distress was a 600-pound female, said Broadbridge.
He said no amount of pleading with the public will be able to fully protect the sea creatures and the law needed to be enforced.
"Without discipline, without law enforcement, the public will do whatever you feel like doing. You can't have turtles live for 100 years and die at the hands of somebody for two seconds because we could not be bothered to protect the beach properly.
"Sometimes, these persons get away with it, and the turtles get slaughtered for the meat in the flippers. That's the only meat they use."
There were only about 12 game wardens on the island, said Broadbridge, which was not enough to protect all turtles.