Saving Our Turtles
by Linda Rutherford

Even with all the help they're getting from other agencies, the task before them in the fight to save the world's marine turtles from extinction "still seems insurmountable," says world conservation body, World Wildlife Fund (WWF). "Despite the conservation activities of WWF and the other environmental institutions, there are still a number of tasks to be accomplished if we are to achieve our goals," Programme Officer, Dr. Patrick Williams said at a ceremony Wednesday on the lawns of the Umana Yana in Georgetown to mark the official launching of the marine turtle monument.

For one, the Guyanese-born scientist said, we need to focus on acquiring up to date genetic information on the turtles, their reproductive and mortality rates, migratory patterns and feeding habits. But most of all, he said, we need to work with the fishing and the indigenous communities on the sound management of these resources. We also need to raise the level of consciousness of our population with respect to the plight of the marine turtle and the need for conservation.

To achieve these noble goals, however, we need not only financial resources but also the commitment and dedication of all the players. They at the WWF, Williams observed, see marine turtle protection and conservation activities as being vital to the protection and maintenance of Earth's biological diversity.

Noting that marine turtles are among the few species that have survived millions of years of evolution, he said we therefore owe it to our children and grandchildren to ensure that these creatures continue to inhabit the planet.

He said that research and World Conservation Union (IUCN) reports have shown that the Guianas (comprising Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, and Guyana) has the largest population of nesting leatherbacks, one of several species of turtles, not only in the western Atlantic, but the world. Sadly, however, he said, the survival of this magnificent creature is now under severe threat from egg poaching and incidental catches from fishing vessels and shrimping trawlers. In an attempt to combat these threats, he said, the WWF has over the past year provided substantial technical and financial support to marine turtle protection in the Guianas.

One such group to have substantially benefitted from this support is the fledgling North-West District-based Guyana Marine Turtle Conservation Society (GMTCS), the WWF major local partner in turtle conservation, and which was responsible for the erection of the monument as part of an ongoing environmental awareness campaign.

The project was realised with the help of the Works and Transport Division of the Ministry of Public Works, which is responsible for the parcel of land on which the monument stands; Shell Antilles Guianas Limited, which has always been a staunch supporter of the group from its inception; and Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel, which has been charged with the responsibility of maintaining the monument. The monument, in the nature of a leatherback hatchling emerging from its shell, was conceptualised by GMTCS Chief Warden, Mr. Audley James and refined by local artist, Ms. Morag Williams. She was assisted by a team of other artists including Burrowes School of Art's Mr. Francis Ferreira.

Williams said the WWF perceives the coming together of these various organisations to make the erection of what he deemed "a most magnificent monument", as "a broadening of partnership with the common goal of marine turtle conservation and protection in Guyana in particular, and in the Guianas in general."

Minister of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock, Mr. Satyadeow Sawh, under whose purview falls the enforcement of the use of the Turtle Excluder Device (TED) by fishing vessels, said the commitment, undertaking, foresight and dedication shown by all those agencies were worthy of commendation.Noting that the conservation and protection of natural resources was not only everybody's business but an important factor to changing world opinion today, he said "the bigger task is to ensure we not only maintain what we have but to improve upon it."

And this is where the question of education comes in, he said. "We have got to ensure that our children...our adult population...and generations to come understand and are taught why it is necessary for us to treat with gentleness those creatures and other lives that share our world."

Contending that educating the population was solving half of the problem, he recalled an instance some months ago at Bachelor's Adventure, East Coast Demerara when a turtle trapped on the beach there was helped back to the Atlantic Ocean with the assistance of the villagers, rather than ending up as "turtle soup" as would have been the case a few short years ago.

He said it is through education that "we're seeing a radical change in our approach and our thinking to these environmental problems." Sawh said he would like to think that every day as we pass around the part of Georgetown where the monument is located, "we will not only be struck by the beauty of the monument...but will more importantly see it as a wake up call to continue in our efforts to preserve and conserve."

Among those at the mid-afternoon ceremony were Coordinator of the United Nations system in Guyana and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative, Mr. Richard Olver, who shared some of his thoughts on what is the UN's concept regarding sustainable development and the sustainable use of natural resources; Shell Antilles' Country Representative, Mr. Ken Figaro - who spoke of the role his company plays in maritime conservation - and his predecessor Mr. Carl Sylvester, who is now retired; and Le Meridien Pegasus General Manager, Mr. Jean Guillaumot, who gave an hilarious account of his limited experience with turtles.

Others included U.S. Ambassador Mr. Ronald Godard, Local Government Minister, Mr. Harripersaud Nokta, whose son, Shyam, is an executive member of GMTCS, and former Amerindian Affairs Minister, Mr Vibert De Souza, who entertained the gathering with a medley of Guyanese folk songs. The event was chaired by GMTCS executive, Ms. Annette Arjoon, who gave an overview of the organisation and the monument project.

[Editor’s Note: All credits for this story goes to the Chronicle, in which it first appeared as “Battle on to save Turtles,” on 10/21/2001.]   eprinted from
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