Attendees at Sea Shepherd’s meeting on sea turtle conservation.
TERRES BASSES–Dutch- and French-side authorities met at Belmond La Samanna hotel on Wednesday, January 22, for a session on marine conservation, which was organised by Sea Shepherd St. Martin.
The purpose of the meeting was to “identify the threats weighing on the three species of turtles regularly frequenting our coasts, and to propose possible solutions,” according to Sea Shepherd in a press release last week.
In attendance were Julien Chalifour of St. Martin Nature Reserve; Antoine Lechevalier and Nadia Dominique of environmental agency Direction de l’Environment et de l’Amenagement et du Logement; Elie Touzet of the Collectivité of St. Martin; St. Maarten’s interim Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Christopher Wever; VROMI Chief of Staff Diana Bryson; St. Maarten government advisors Ildiko Gilders and Melissa Peterson; St. Maarten Nature Foundation Manager Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern; Bertrand Peters of Simpson Bay Lagoon Authority Corporation (SLAC); and dive operator Henry Franken, among others.
St. Maarten Nature Foundation emphasised during the meeting that it is illegal to hinder turtles from nesting or to disturb their nests.
“Sea turtles are protected on both sides of the island. It is forbidden to touch them, to injure them, to kill them, to degrade their habitat, to disturb them, to harm reproduction or nesting.
“We ask the witnesses of one of these scenarios to kindly report it as soon as possible to a competent authority, such as the St. Martin Nature Reserve, the Maritime Gendarmerie, Sea Shepherd St. Martin, the St. Maarten Nature Foundation and the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard,” said Sea Shepherd St. Martin.
“Turtles are confronted with many impediments to their well-being, such as water pollution due to sewage water runoff and garbage. They become victims of poaching, traps, debris that ends up in the water, particularly in Simpson Bay Lagoon, and accidents caused from boat engines,” said St. Maarten Nature Foundation.
The Nature Foundation also said turtles sometimes get confused and distracted by onshore lights, which hinders them from nesting. “The same goes for young turtles making their way to the sea,” said the foundation.
Attendees agreed that a speed limit must be introduced and enforced for boats in Simpson Bay Lagoon and those operating close to seashores, to alleviate injuries caused to turtles swimming in the area.
Participants also pointed out other challenges in curtailing harm to sea turtles, and discussed possible solutions.
Wever spoke of his ministry’s commitment to alleviate sewage water running into Simpson Bay Lagoon and on St. Maarten’s beaches. The proposed sewage plant in Cole Bay will help to lessen these events when it is operational, he said.
Wever said the recently launched “Be part of the solution, reduce your pollution” campaign is “another clear indication of the ministry’s efforts to keep the island clean and to reduce pollution through recycling.” He also pledged his commitment to endeavours that protect the sea turtles and other marine life.
“Let us remind [ourselves – Ed.] that sea turtles have been on [the island] well before us. They, therefore, are an integral part of its natural inheritance,” concluded Sea Shepherd St. Martin.