Protecting Sea Turtles in the P&S Archipelago
Community guards in the Primeiras & Segundas are used to educating fishermen on the importance of the fragile ecosystem on which their lives are dependent, and enforcing local fishing rules and regulations; but a less common part of their job is perhaps one of the most important aspects of their work in the P&S program. Sea turtles are sometimes caught, accidentally or intentionally, and sold for their meat, even though this practice is illegal under Mozambican law. Many choose to hunt turtles because they can bring in more money and they don’t have to compete with the hoards of fishermen who painstakingly set their nets every morning only to bring in smaller and smaller catches due to overfishing. While some choose to ignore the law and continue poaching, others are fighting for the survival of these majestic sea creatures.
“If we hunt too much, turtles may disappear forever,” Dínis Mário, head of the marine community guards in Moma district, offers as an explanation as to why his job of patrolling the coast off of Moma is so important. In July a group of community guards were alerted when men were seen heading out to the islands with nets designed specifically to catch turtles. Three guards were sent to Mpuitini beach where they camped out waiting for the group to return. Unfortunately they could not arrange fuel on such short notice to intervene out at sea, but they were prepared to meet them when they returned to the shore. At around 6:30pm on June 23 about 5 men returned and were confronted by five community guards, two members of the local fishing association, and one government representative. The leader of the group was taken into custody and four turtles were rescued from the small wooden boat.
The leader of the group was fined 14,000 meticais (about $520USD) and imprisoned for 6 days. The four Green turtles were guarded at the police station that night and a team of Alliance staff, the chief of police, and members of SDAE (the government division that deals with economic activities including tourism and fishing) loaded the large turtles into a motorboat to release them near the island of Careca where they were captured. One of the marine guards involved, Molidi Chale, thinks that the attention this incident is getting in the community will help dissuade others from continuing this practice. “After we captured them [the poachers] it has been calm here. I think our presence in the field is important and necessary because when we are there, there aren’t many problems.” Both Dínis and Molidi think that now more than ever their role of educating the community on the importance of preserving sea turtles is essential. Dínis thinks that because of their role in teaching fishermen the importance of recognizing the law prohibiting killing turtles “these incidences have declined. We are happy to see our work.” Molidi, Dínis, and the coordinator for the CARE-WWF Alliance in the districts of Moma and Pebane, Abdul Haje António, think that what is needed is raising awareness about the importance of conserving sea life, among other incentives that will come as a result from doing just this.
The marine guards are not only focusing on turtles, but also fish and encouraging fishing techniques that are more sustainable. In the last 3 months the community guards in Moma have worked in collaboration with government agencies to apprehend more than 2,000 mosquito nets sewn into fishing nets. The reason why mosquito nets are outlawed in Mozambique is because the size of the mesh is so small that very little is able to escape. This means that juvenile fish are captured without giving them time to mature and reproduce, thus depleting the fish population. Regulations were established allowing only nets with larger mesh so that adult fish could be captured but smaller fish would easily pass through and have time to grow, mate, and replenish the numbers of fish being caught. But overfishing has caused many fishermen to focus only on the present and not think in terms of the future. Mosquito nets are used because they allow fishermen to bring in larger catches in the present (though comprised of much smaller fish), but they are not taking into account the havoc this will cause in the future when less and less fish are available at all.
The four Green turtles were returned to the sea and the mood at their release was described as “happy,” but the community marine rangers have a lot of work ahead of them to prevent these incidences from continuing. Informing fishermen and the broader community about the rules and regulations defined by Mozambican law, routine patrolling and monitoring of the beaches, estuaries, and archipelago, and working closely with the government to bring justice to offenders are priorities for the guards. Molidi Chale describes why he dedicates so much of his time to protecting sea life, and sea turtles in particular: “Without protection they will disappear. They’re an important animal that needs our help to survive.”