Poachers still pose a threat for sea turtles
Seven live turtles were found at Fogo Island in the hands of a group of fishermen. The turtles were all released and are now safely swimming in the Indian Ocean. The discovery happened during a recent trip with the administrators of the four districts covered by the PSEPA, Angoche, Moma, Larde and Pebane.
The turtles were found hidden under dry branches, ready to be killed. The poachers would have then smoked the meat and sell it. The administrators were clearly angry about the discovery and the leader of the poachers was apprehended and taken to Moma for questioning and conviction. After that, the seven turtles were taken by boat some kilometers off the island and were then released.
Poachers are believed to have their base in Fogo Island, off the coast of Larde, where they are taking advantage of the lack of law enforcement in the archipelago. Sea turtles are at high risk in the area because of opportunistic poachers that have found a market for the meat and their eggs, which are also taken from nests on the islands. Poachers first make sure that the turtle’s shells are well preserved, proceed to smoke the meat and then sell both in Angoche and Larde.
The 10 islands in the PSEPA are uninhabited. This factor and the lack of law enforcement officials, transportation for police officers and slim livelihood options for many of the fishermen are the main reason why the sea turtles are being targeted. Turtles in the Primeiras e Segundas archipelago have been poached for years. The Primeiras e Segundas program has fought this malpractice since the program started. At first, there were rangers in the islands catching poachers and raising awareness among fishermen of the importance of protecting species like turtles, seagulls and other protected species. Under Mozambican law, poachers can be charged with a 50,000 MTCs (about $1,600 USD) fine if they are found poaching sea turtles. Fishermen are taught through Community Based Natural Resource Management Committees (CBNRM) that turtles should be protected and that poaching turtles is a crime. Fishermen are also explained that turtles don’t reach their reproductive age until they are 20 or 30, and the difficulty turtles face at the early stages of their lives. If turtles are not poached, they can live more than 100 years and they could potentially be a big draw for tourism to the area, which would create more livelihood options.
In the end, the importance of protecting species like sea turtles was highlighted by this discovery of these poachers, and having the administrators as witnesses would likely lead to a stronger alliance between the government and the program. In the future, government partners will know the situation in the PSEPA and how important it is to ensure that the community is aware of the importance of protected species and monitoring their well being. As a result of this visit, administrators from all the districts in the PSEPA now have a better understanding of the biodiversity of the area and they saw first-hand the challenges of conservation.