Last month the Nature Foundation St. Maarten recorded once again a sea turtle which succumbed due to a heavy boat strike in the Simpson Bay Lagoon. The green sea turtle stood no chance and quickly died after being hit by boat propellers. This reoccurring problem, whereby speeding boats struck sea turtles especially the turtles in the Simpson Bay lagoon and surroundings, need to be addressed and changed soonest! The areas in the Simpson Bay lagoon and close to the coast are areas of No Wake zones, and boat speeding is not permitted.
“Recently, we collaborated with the coastguard to exchange ideas to prevent the speeding of vessels within Simpson Bay waters. Both organizations will increase their outreach and will remind vessels to slow down in these coastal areas. Boat speeding in ‘No Wake’ zones could lead to serious consequences which are enforced by the coastguard and causing endangering or harming towards sea turtles could lead to prosecution” stated the Manager of the Nature Foundation, Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.
Especially during the busy yachting season, an increase of boat speeding within the Simpson Bay lagoon has been noticed. Speeding with any type of vessel in the lagoon and close to the coast can cause serious consequences to marine life or could even endanger human life. The Simpson Bay lagoon and Simpson Bay are critical foraging grounds for sea turtles and abundance of turtles can be recorded. In 2021 four fatal sea turtle boat strikes were recorded and five in 2020, which all occurred close to the Simpson Bay bridge. Sea turtles’ surface to breathe as they have lungs and breathe air, during this time they are exposed to propellers of boats, when boats are traveling at high speed, sea turtles have no time to get to safety. It is difficult to point out the guilty boat, as an injured sea turtle will dive down due to the strike and die after. However, any boat which is traveling faster than indicated in the no wake zone, is an offender and contributor to the death of this endangered and protected species.
The Nature Foundation is very worried about the decrease of the sea turtle population on Sint Maarten and the amount of fatal boat strikes. The Foundation is asking all boaters to reduce their speed, especially in the lagoon and coastal areas. Different actions have been taken already to increase the awareness of the critical state the sea turtles are in, for example using signs on the Simpson Bay 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!
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.