Nature Foundation St. Maarten Records Fourth Fatal Sea Turtle Boat Strike for 2021

Once more, a sea turtle was fatally struck by a boat engine in the Simpson Bay lagoon, the Nature Foundation counted four sea turtle fatalities for 2021. The Foundation received a call regarding an injured sea turtle found in the Simpson Bay Lagoon by a Marina. The green sea turtle had no chance of survival due to the large propeller injuries. It had a deep cut in the head and also in the plastron (underside) of the turtle. Most likely the turtle got struck by a boat and was turned around by the force of the strike and hit again, fatally injuring the turtle. In this situation, the only humane option was to put the turtle down to prevent a slow, extremely painful death.

“It is heartbreaking to see another boat striking accident involving a sea turtle. Because of the profound injuries we had no other option than to put it down. If only the carapace (shell) would have been damaged, it could have possibly been mended and had a chance of survival. Due to the deep cuts in the head and underside we, unfortunately, had no chance to save it,” explained Tessa Volbeda, sea turtle intern of the Nature Foundation who was at the scene to retrieve the sea turtle.

Boat strike accidents, like this one in the lagoon, have contributed to the decrease of the sea turtle population. This year already 4 sea turtles have died due to boat strikes and another 5 turtles died in 2020. It is difficult to point out the guilty boat, as an injured sea turtle will dive down due to the strike. However, any boat which is traveling faster than indicated in the no wake zone, is an offender and contributor to the death of an endangered and protected species. Sea turtles surface to breathe as they have lungs and breathe air. During this time, the turtles are exposed to boats and especially their propellers, when boats are traveling at high speeds turtles are easily struck.

“At the Nature Foundation, we are very worried about the decrease of our sea turtle population on Sint Maarten and the amount of fatal boat strikes. We are asking all boaters to reduce their speed and we are asking the assistance of the coastguard to have all boats adhere to the speed limit, especially in the lagoon. We are taking different actions to increase the awareness of the critical state the sea turtles are in, for example using signs on the bridge. However, boats are apparently still speeding in the lagoon and coastal areas creating a hazardous situation for sea turtles that come up for air. We also urge everyone to actively look out for sea turtles when driving a boat at all times” stated Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern, manager of the Nature Foundation St. Maarten.

All sea turtle’s species are protected by the SPAW Protocol and the Nature Conservation Ordinance St. Maarten Articles 16 and 17. This means it is illegal to kill, wound, capture or pick up sea turtles. It is also illegal to disturb their environment resulting directly or indirectly in a physical threat or damage or to commit other acts which result in disturbance of the animal. It is forbidden to disturb, damage or destroy sea turtle nests, lairs or breeding places. Also, it is forbidden, by the same law, to pick up or to destroy the eggs of any species of sea turtle. In short, it is illegal to disturb or damage the turtles, their eggs or their habitat in any way.

Humans are the primary source of many of the threats these animals face which result in only 1 in 1000 hatchlings surviving to adulthood. Despite their endangered status, green sea turtles are still being killed for their meat and shells. Habitat destruction has been an increasing problem as the coastlines are being overdeveloped since the 1990’s. This results in limited space available for natural beaches, which are necessary for sea turtles to nest. Poaching of eggs, fishery bycatch and trash pollution of the oceans are all also threats sea turtles must face.

The Nature Foundation asks everyone to be mindful of the threats sea turtles face and try to mitigate them. Minimize your use of single-use plastics, slow down your boats when traveling in the lagoon or coastal areas, always have a lookout onboard, and limit beach lighting during nesting season, which is from April until December. If an injured sea turtle or any sea turtle activity on the beach is encountered, please alert the Nature Foundation immediately.