Destroy ecosystem at our peril
IN RECENT YEARS Barbados has been pushing the importance of protecting and saving the environment.
While we have made some headway, it is obvious we have a long way to go in understanding and safeguarding our environment. The cruel attacks on our critically endangered sea turtles – hawksbill, green and leatherback – tell us that the message of protecting these beautiful animals has not gotten through.
While poachers, apparently striking in the still of the night, have been carrying out merciless attacks, in some instances the animals have been wantonly killed, neither for their meat nor for their eggs.
We are in the turtle nesting season, so we can expect the females coming in at our beaches across the island to lay their eggs. From the moment the eggs are laid, they are exposed to danger – from mongooses, dogs and individuals.
It is illegal to sell turtle meat, so no one looking for such a sale can display his catch in any of our fish markets. It would also be difficult to openly sell the meat on the beach, so poachers would have a hard time disposing of it.
But we recognize that there are some people who relish eating such rare meat, believing it offers cures for various ailments or provide some special virility. Yet, there are others who hold the misguided view that as long as the creature lives in the sea, it is there for the taking and there is no such thing as endangered.
The Barbados Sea Turtle Project, a conservation organization, has been doing a remarkable job in trying to protect the turtles, but faces a number of challenges. While the group may have names of those who wantonly kill turtles or take their eggs, there is little it has been able to do other than pass on the information to either the police and or the Fisheries Division. We have had few cases going before the law courts for breach of the legislation and in any case the penalties are light.
Scientists have indicated that every time we kill off a species – which has been occurring at an astounding rate – we destroy a chance to learn more about our universe.
Our foolish actions may also be destroying a cure for a major disease or pointing to a much needed discovery that could change lives for the better. We must understand that animal species and plants are interdependent. So when we hunt the turtle into extinction, or we overfish the sea eggs, we do not just harm one species, we negatively impact on other plants and animals. They, too, become endangered and the entire ecosystem is threatened.
It is left, therefore, to moral suasion and perhaps a national public education programme for the message to get across that conservation and protection of the sea turtle are critical to all of us. The link between a safe environment and enhanced life is all too clear. We must stop harming our turtles.