The Nature Foundation St. Maarten Shares Concern over Excessive Numbers of Fatal Boat Strikes on Sea Turtles in 2020

Over the weekend the Nature Foundation received a report of a dead sea turtle found in the waters close to Beacon Hill and Burgeaux bay. The green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) clearly died due to a boat engine and was drifting around for some days, until it was found on Sunday by the dive school SXM Divers. This year again a concerning amount of sea turtles have died due to boat strikes, although the water activities are slow due to COVID19. So far for 2020, the Foundation reported already 5 sea turtles deceased due to boat strikes. 

“We were very sad to find the dead sea turtle, especially as due to COVID 19 reduced activities much less boat traffic is happening this year, however we still find dead sea turtles. Apparently, some boats chose to speed in the foraging grounds of sea turtles, or the water surface is not monitored during boat driving. Since last year we see an increase in reported dead sea turtles, five of them died due to boat strikes in and around the Simpson Bay Lagoon area, two sea turtles died in our trash, ending up entangled in a chair and fishing gear, also an additional amount of sea turtles died on the French side. Sea turtles are vulnerable species, when they forage they need to come up to the surface in order to breath, speeding boats do not provide the sea turtles enough time to escape back into the safe zone” stated Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern Nature Foundation’s Manager.

Sea turtle population numbers have plummeted to dangerously low numbers throughout the past century due to human impacts, bringing many species close to extinction and causing them to be listed as critically endangered. On St Maarten, all sea turtle species are protected by international laws and treaties as well as local laws. Based on ARTICLE 16 and 17 of the Nature Conservation Ordinance St. Maarten it is illegal to kill, wound, capture, pick-up, and have animals that belong to a protected animal species, to directly or indirectly disturb their environment resulting in a physical threat or damage to the fauna or to commit other acts which result in disturbance of the animal. It is also forbidden to upset an animal belonging to a protected species, to disturb damage or destroy its nest, lair, or breeding place, as well as to take the nest of such an animal. Also, it is forbidden to pick-up or to destroy the eggs of animals belonging to a protected species, which Sea Turtles are.

“We are seriously concerned about the survival chances of our sea turtle population and urge to increase and enforce the protection level of our precious sea turtles. We are asking all boaters to pay attention to sea turtles when driving in our waters and to reduce their speed to lower limits close to shore and in Simpson Bay and Great Bay” stated the Nature Foundation.

The Nature Foundation asks that individuals contact the Foundation when injured or dead sea turtles are found, as proper burial is needed, the Foundation is also the designated authority for sea turtle management and other endangered and invasive species issues. Currently, sea turtle nesting is still occurring on several beaches, therefore please report any possible nesting signs and tracks to the Nature Foundation, as all sea turtle nests are being monitored by the Foundation.

The dead green turtle also had several tumors due to the Fibropapillomatosis virus, a common disease found in sea turtles probably facilitated by poor water quality. The animal can live with the tumors for a long time, but it does show us something about its health and the health of the surrounding waters. The cause of these tumors is unclear; however polluted water could certainly play a role. Scientific research found a link between excess nitrogen (sewage) which accumulates in algae that sea turtles eat.  This can cause Fibropapilliomatosis in sea turtles, which forms tumors and is the leading cause of deaths in endangered green sea turtles.

Photocredit: Daniel Norwood, SXM Divers