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Turtle nesting season begins

By Kim Boodram

THEY’VE been arriving on local shores in singles since last month but the gates were formally thrown open yesterday to welcome the start of Turtle Nesting Season 2014.

The season was declared open by Environment and Water Resources Minister, Ganga Singh, during a ceremony at the Valencia Visitors Centre.

In addition to more coming measures to protect the critically endangered marine reptiles, at least five species of which visit local shores by the thousands every year to lay, Singh announced a partnership between this country and Malaysia for the establishment of a locally-based Institute of Environmental Forensics.

The collaboration will take place via the Environmental Management Authority, under the stewardship of chairman Dr Allan Bachan and will link some of  T&T’s conservation bodies to the University of Putra Jaya in Malaysia.

A delegation from the university will visit T&T later this month, Singh said, adding that the planned Institute will be the first of its kind in this part of the world.

The centre will be used for, among other things, the testing of animal carcasses to determine causes of death and determine whether the deaths are natural or man-made, either directly or through environmental factors.

The species known to frequent local shores are the Leatherback, Hawksbill, Green, Loggerhead and Olive Ridley turtles.

 “Just three days ago, on Friday, in Las Cuevas the carcass of a giant leatherback turtle had to be lifted by wildlife officers from the waters and transported from Las Cuevas to the Mt Hope Veterinary Clinic for forensic examination,” Singh said.

“Our wildlife officers indicated that the Las Cuevas sea turtle may have been another victim of gillnet fishing. “We are awaiting results on these tests so that we can be better aware of potential dangers to our sea turtles.”

Gillnet fishing remains a thorn in the side of turtle conservationists, as it is responsible for the deaths of thousands of healthy marine turtles every year, including the critically endangered leatherback.

When caught in these nets, the turtles often drown or are slaughtered by fishermen as their massive size and strength makes freeing them sometimes impossible.

With a $29 million Green Fund  grant to Turtle Village Trust last year for conservation, to be spread out over three years, Singh said a number of new initiatives to solve problems such as these are being studied.

“We in fact have to look at the whole question of gillnet fishing and deal with it while providing a sustainable livelihood for our fishermen,” said Singh.

“I also would like to challenge “Friends and Fishermen of the Sea” to collaborate with us with a view of finding a solution to this problem.”

Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) is an activist group that is among those calling for the implementation of live-bait fishing to ease the number of turtle deaths caused by gillnets.

The Trust is also bringing an expansion of the off-shore monitoring programme to Tobago, which involves the tagging of turtles.

“Additionally, there will also be many educational programmes and training initiatives offered to engage community group members to expand their skills and capacity,” Singh said.

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