Five men have been charged and are now facing separate fines in connection with the unlawful killing of a young female nesting leatherback sea turtle in the La Plaine area on Monday morning.
Hubert Cuffy, Masterville Edgar, Vedel Barry, Aldrin Graham and Omari Graham of La Plaine who pleaded guilty before Magistrate Ossie Lewis this morning were all fined $400 which is to be paid by Thursday May 13, 2010 or they each face three months in jail.
According to the facts of the case presented by the police prosecutor, on Monday, May 10, 2010, at about 6:15 a.m. Constable A. John Baptiste who was on duty at the La Plaine Police Station acted on information received, went to the “Boot Sab” Beach in La Plaine when he noticed what appeared to be blood and fresh tire marks in the sand.
“The officer concluded investigations which led him … a few miles into forest (the heights of La Plaine). He was also accompanied by forest officers,” the prosecutor said.
On arriving a certain area, the officers met the defendant Edgar who led them to the area where the turtle was dumped.
According to the prosecutor, Edgar had told police, he was not responsible for slaughtering the animal and had met the turtle dead on the beach when he had gone for an early morning bath. He then went and called his friend- the other defendants- for help, who later assisted him load to the reptile on his vehicle.
Three of the defendants were arrested yesterday, while one defendant surrendered himself this morning to the police.
The other men denied slaughtering the animal, according to the prosecutor.
The prosecutor informed the court that the said turtle was not marked which indicated that this was its first encounter with humans.
He mentioned that normally, the relevant officials would tag or mark turtles they encountered in order to monitor their habits and where they have been.
None of the defendants had previous convictions.
Meanwhile, Magistrate Lewis expressed his dissatisfaction with what he said was a “minor” penalty for such crime and called for an amendment of that act.
“The only thing about this regulation to species … is that the penalty is still very very minor, lenient. They have been looking for an amendment for a number of years. The maximum penalty is still $400… It’s very sad. I think it’s time they amend the Forestry and Wildlife Act to increase the penalty.
The turtle was ordered to be disposed by the court.
Yesterday, Dominica News Online had reported that one man was arrested.
The 558-pound turtle was brought to the Forestry Division in Roseau, where the media got the opportunity to view the brutally slaughtered reptile.
Security guard for the La Plaine beach, James Corbette who encountered the alleged offender about six miles into the forest with a dead turtle in his pickup, said the other perpetrators fled.
“When I got the call this morning it was about 6:15 a.m. and they tell me it have a turtle on the beach, when we reach we didn’t meet any turtle but we saw the blood and the transport trail, and we follow it up about six miles up in the forest, and we discover the turtle. We saw guys running. One stayed there because he couldn’t run because he had his vehicle there and then we called the police,” Corbette said.
Assistant Forest Officer Stephen Durand, who also spoke to media, said that a current minimal fine of $400 or in default three months in prison for such an offense, does not serve as a deterrent for this illegal activity.
“If you had a fine say probably, $25,000 to $50,000 that would be a deterrent. Persons engaged in that type of activity would ask themselves a question. And some if the individuals involved in that opportunity they are repeat offenders. That is a habit for them. They have been poaching these animals for years … It’s not like, you know, a new person coming up. Some of these activities are carried out by seasoned poachers,” he said.
Durand said that several attempts have been made by his ministry to have this law amended which has been delayed for over a decade.
“This (penalty) is something that we really don’t like talking about… Obviously this fine should be amended… we’ve suggested amendments to legal affairs through our ministry, that is within the last 10-11 years; we have not been seeing any action at all. Rather than you know, we see results those things just keep on delaying,” Durand said.
“There’s also an amendment or enacting the Fisheries Regulations. There is also in there regulation for sea turtle conservation as well. .. What is in the Fisheries regulations is probably what we need. This regulation hasn’t been enacted as well so there’s is a total delay everywhere,” he noted.
Durand informed that it is an offense for persons to take turtles engaged in nesting on the beach, irrespective of what time of year.
He mentioned a few initiatives that the forestry Division has undertaken in order to create awareness about the conservation of turtles to the general public over the years, and allow for them to freely come on the beach to nest.
“In terms of conservation we’ve been doing a lot of work. As you know we’ve had several programs– conservation programs, within the last 10 to 15 years involving the Rosalie Sea Turtle Initiative… we did quite a lot of work on that. In terms of our raising our people’s awareness on the whole idea of protecting sea turtles, particularly endangered species … most of the species nesting on island are endangered species and this one is also an endangered species,” Durand explained.
The assistant forest officer said that he sees turtles here as an avenue to generate income for communities.
“They can work with hotels…. local persons can get involved in a very organized manner allow people to see turtles engaged in nesting rather than kill the turtles,” he added.
– By DNO Correspondent