Thursday, June 14, 2007

For the love of turtles!

Any diver that has ever had the pleasure of swimming alonside a turtle and watching them gracefully glide through the water will tell you that it's a magical experience. If you read Mike Tripps blog earlier this week, the one dated June 11, 2007, you saw some pictures of some baby turtles that had just hatched and were making their way down to the ocean. He told what an incredible experience it was, seeing a hundred of so of these amazing creatures all starting out their life and making a mad dash for the ocean. The odds of a turtle making it from that stage to a full grown turtle are very, very slim. They have numerous natural predators, and I believe that less than a handful will actually live to maturity. A big full grown turtle like the one pictured would be at least 20 years old. They have survived all kinds of things and now grace the open oceans with their presence.

I'm completely enthralled every time I see a turtle on a dive, it never gets old, and I enjoy each one as much as the last. These creatures are so serene and peaceful, they don't bother anything else, they just quietly munch on the algae and vegitation that grows underwater. They also happen to be very valuable tourism ambassadors for our diving on Saipan. Diving tourists love seeing turtles, and love to take pictures of them. One simple turtle sighting might make their entire trip worthwhile, and give them memories that will last a lifetime.

I understand that once upon a time it was a custom and culture to take turtles for food and making jewelry out of their shells, but those days should be behind us. The islands are far more populated now, and we could easily wipe out our turtle population if we continued taking them for "cultural" purposes. The federal government has protected the turtles and does not allow them to be taken any longer unless it's for scientific research, and then it is only allowed by federal permits, and is very tightly regulated and controlled.

It breaks my heart every time I hear about these magnificent creatures being poached just because someone wants some turtle meat for a fiesta, or wants to make some bracelets out of their shells. Fortunately I don't think it happens as often here as it used to, but the fact that it still happens at all deeply disturbs me. What bothers me even more is when I hear that the very people that are supposed to be protecting these ocean treasures, are the ones that let the poachers get it away with it, and don't follow through with enforcement or prosecution. In the past we have seen poachers let off because of political connections, or questionable decisions made by the Attorney General's office.

This is a very small island, and news about poachers getting caught gets around quickly. It also doesn't take much investigation to find out the rest of the facts about what happened after the poacher was caught. There are those of us who care very deeply about the turtles, and want to see them protected properly, the way the federal laws intended. Many of us believe that those caught should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And anyone who did not do their job properly in the aftermath of the whole thing should be relieved of their duty, and be prosecuted as well if applicable. That is all I'm going to say about this for now, but I will be watching the case closely, and won't hesitate to push the issue harder if I don't feel it is being handled properly.

How could anyone not want to protect such an amazing creature, and not take care of one of our true natural resources?