Yesterday, I witnessed a local man butchering a sea turtle. It was a first for me; I had seen the signs and heard rumors of turtle killing and consumption in the southern Caribbean, but I had never actually seen it. Yesterday, I did. And it made me sad. Really sad.
We were walking back to our dinghy after enjoying a happy hour when we came upon several local men cleaning their bountiful catch of grouper, snapper and other fish. I heard more action from below the dock, looked down, and saw a man hidden from plain view, hurriedly cleaning something else entirely. It was a Hawksbill sea turtle. I was shocked and stood over him watching for a moment before Scott ushered me away. "Is that legal?" I whispered to another cruiser who looked at me with sad eyes, shrugged and mouthed "I don't know". I thought they were endangered, but I couldn't remember for sure. The rushed way he was hacking did seem a bit clandestine...but who was I to judge? So we quietly walked past, got into our dinghy and drove away. It wasn't my place to say anything, anyway....or was it?
When we returned to the boat I actually took to our Facebook page and wrote: "Kinda bummed...just saw a local cleaning up a sea turtle...with a filet knife. I know we have no place to "judge" - but it did make me sad to see him hacking off the fins. I think they might even be endangered? They are so magnificent. Sad." It got a lot of response. The intention of that post was not to fuel debates about whether or not this man should have killed the turtle, nor was my purpose to open up a discussion about why this turtle should have our sympathy when so many factory farmed animals do not and I certainly wasn't trying to put my "educated" self on a pedestal by deeming this man ignorant and virtually berate him for his actions. My post was simply to voice my sadness over seeing something I wished I hadn't.
But that little impulse post started all sorts of discussions and so I decided to take it a step further and write about it here.
One rather...er, passionate, follower had this to say:
"Did you offer to give the guy $100 bucks so he wouldn't have to eat a turtle? Did you offer to educate him on the status of the species and it's place in the ecosystem?; Did you give him a laptop, show him how to use it....so he could be 'connected'? You and all these other dumb asses on here who would hang this guy....have no idea what it's like to be in his shoes. So f****** typical for those who have to judge those who don't or for those who are 'educated' to judge those who are 'ignorant'. Maybe the guy needed to feed his family, maybe the turtle was all he caught, maybe he is supporting his grandparents who can't fish for themselves and the list goes on and on......disappointing to say the least."* -John
As it turns out, the hawksbill sea turtle is a "critically endangered" creature. While hunting turtles was actually legal here up until 2009, the hunting of the Hawksbill turtle has been outlawed since 1986. If we are to apply the logic of our eloquent friend John, perhaps local Bahamians should be excluded from the law? But then again, isn't this the exact mentality that gets us in these messes in the first place? Just walk away. Pretend you didn't see anything and walk away.
While it is true that I have no idea of the circumstances of the fisherman's life and plight (perhaps he desperately needed the money from the shell? Maybe he doesn't know they are endangered?), nor the details surrounding the death of the sea turtle (was it already dead? snared in a net? accidentally killed?), I do know a couple of things:
1. If the turtle was in fact "hunted", there was no need to do so for sustenance alone. There are plenty more fish in the sea and the local Bahamian's are expert anglers.
2. Hunting a sea turtle requires work and effort. Not only are they rare, they are very fast and not easy to catch. It is not common to "accidentally" pull one up with a fishing line.
My question is this: what would you have done? What is the proper recourse in a situation like this? We are visitors here, passerby's who know very little of the "real" lives of these folks. I have no intention or desire to be the "environmental" police and I do not believe in forcing ourselves and beliefs on others. But on the other hand, we're talking about a critically endangered animal here. One who's numbers are dwindling in large part because of human impact. So who is responsible? Is it best to turn a blind eye and walk away? Or should we try to speak our minds and share what we know? It's a very difficult position, and I am curious what your thoughts are? I honestly do not know the answer.
* If you actually read the thread, you will see that this man's impressions of what people were saying are pretty far off.