Despite opposition from many fishermen, the Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources has amended fisheries laws to give full protection to all sea turtles found in the Atlantic archipelago's waters by banning the harvest, possession, purchase and sale of the endangered reptiles, including their eggs. The new rules took effect on September 1st.
"Young people here have never tasted turtle, but it had continued to be eaten by the older population in some of the outer islands," said Kim Aranha, a member of a Bahamian conservation group that led the campaign to protect sea turtles. "So we're really happy our work has paid off with this ban; the turtles couldn't do it themselves." The Bahamas Sea Turtle Conservation Group has been pressuring the government for about two years to protect all sea turtle species.
Previously, the Bahamian government permitted harvesting of all species of sea turtles except the hawksbill. Flesh had been used by restaurants and shells for tourist keepsakes despite turtles' status as endangered species.
It's impossible to gauge how many green turtles, loggerheads and other types were slaughtered each year in the Bahamas, but activists say counts of shells found in marina markets and information from fishermen indicate the haul was hefty.
Not everybody is happy with the new rules. Opponents say eating turtle meat is a local tradition. Some local fishermen argue they should be able to catch the migrating animals without any penalty. Jane Mather, co-chairwoman of the conservation group who has received anonymous threats in recent weeks over the ban, said penalties are still being negotiated with the government but she hopes they will be "quite serious." According to Mather ninety percent of the Bahamian public don't want turtles killed. (cat)