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.
Honourary 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 the social media Facebook showed honorary game wardens rescuing a leatherback turtle from poachers at Manzanilla Beach last weekend. The turtle had been turn on its back, in preparation for butchering. had it not been found, the turtle would likely have died since it would have been unable to right itself.
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 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. I am very pleased that our wardens that they caught somebody, but 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."
Broadbridge said, "There is no time to have the meat. It is illegal to harm or molest any of the turtles at any time of the year. Sitting on the backs of the turtle that happen a lot when people go turtle watching, can kill the backs of the turtles.
It destroys the little bones in the back and when the turtle dives deep, it causes internal bleeding. If honorary game wardens or game wardens find anybody climbing on a turtle they will be arrested and they will be charged."
There were only about twelve game wardens on the island, said Broadbridge, which was not enough to protect all turtles.
"We are actually brought in to assist the regular game wardens. We are official. We are able to make arrest. We have the power to charge and we are trained to enforce wildlife law."
He said of all the beaches that the turtles can be seen, Manzanilla was the most neglected, even though it was a very important turtle nesting site. Attention was placed on beaches at Mathura and Grand Riviere where there were massive clean up operations, proper security and regular patrols but not Manzanilla, he said.
Broadbridge said it was very dangerous for persons to eat turtle meat because its contained, an unsafe amount of mercury.
"Poachers are mad people because it is well known that these turtles have unsafe levels of mercury in their flesh.They (turtles) are also awesome tourism generating income. We are stupid if we kill them. They are worth plenty more to the tourist industry then they are to meat in the pot." And the turtles affect the fishing industry.
Broadbridge said, "Leatherback turtles eat a lot of jellyfish. Jellyfish destroy baby fish. When we take a leatherback turtle out of the water and kill it, we are essentially increasing the jellyfish population and as a result decreasing the fish population. If we want fish in the market to be at a reasonable price we have to be able to protect the leatherback turtles."