Last week, two sea turtles were fatally struck by vessels in the coastal waters of St. Maarten. On Tuesday, the 10th of January, the Nature Foundation received a call of a sea turtle boat strike in the area of Simpson Bay. Upon arrival, NF crew found clear evidence of the dead green sea turtle being in contact with the boat propellor. On Thursday the 12th of January, an injured sea turtle was reported in Great Bay. When the ranger team arrived, they found a horribly wounded green sea turtle who was still alive and in great suffering. This sea turtle was collected onboard of the foundation vessel and died during transport. This sea turtle had been struck on one side of its neck and front fin, and areas of the shell. The strike was so bad that the sea turtle was nearly decapitated.
The Simpson Bay lagoon and Simpson Bay beach are critical foraging grounds for sea turtles and abundance of turtles has been recorded. In 2022, three fatal sea turtle boat strikes have been recorded, four in 2021, and five in 2020. Two sea turtles dying in one week can be linked to the high rate of boats activities of this month in comparison to previous years.
Sea turtles are able to dive under water quickly to avoid vessels. The two that were struck this week must have encountered vessels traveling at extremely high speeds in the waters surrounding our island. Please, all boaters should adhere to a no wake policy in the lagoon and in bay areas of our island where turtles can be found living and feeding on seagrass beds.
Each of these beautiful creatures survives for decades, many live in our waters for throughout their lives while some return here only to nest. Only 1 in 1000 hatchlings (baby sea turtles) survive to adulthood due to the immense adversity this species faces. Many species of sea turtles are endangered, and all are protected by International and Sint Maarten law. All sea turtle species are protected by the SPAW Protocol and the Nature Conservation Ordinance St. Maarten Articles 16 and 17. If a sea turtle is seen while boating, the engine should be turned into neutral immediately and efforts should be made to avoid the animal.
According to the new visiting sea turtle project ranger, “It is very disturbing to see so many sea turtles injured and killed in such a short time. It is alarming. I’ve travelled to every ocean in the world (apart from the poles), and I’ve never seen so many incidents. The work of the NGO is therefore very necessary, but without the cooperation of the public we will see this population shrink to nothing, if this continues,” explained Sacha Martin.
Sea turtle populations 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. The Nature Foundation urgently requests individuals contact the Foundation when injured or dead sea turtles are found.
There are 5 simple actions that can be taken to reduce the impact of boaters on this species:
- Slow down. Sea turtles have lived long before humans, they have survived the laws of nature. They are able to take shelter in case of danger, except when the danger moves at more than 10 knots. Slow down your engine close to the shore.
- Stay focus on where you go. As the captain of a boat is responsible for anything that happened during their sailing, we remind captains always to have a lookout onboard.
- Switch to neutral. Close to the shore or at sea as soon as you see any floating object. It can save you technical problems but above all it can save the lives of living beings.
- Sharing is caring. Become an example of respect for nature in your behavior, your actions count. And spread the word.
- Inform the professionals. As soon as you see an injured turtle, a turtle on a beach or people approaching turtles, contact Nature Foundation. The life of one of them may be in your hands.