The Nature Conservancy Applauds The Bahamas' Sweeping New Legal Protections for Sea Turtles
Sea turtles have gained another important haven in the Caribbean
Bahamas | September 01, 2009
Effective September 1, new laws in The Bahamas completely prohibit the harvesting, possession, purchase and sale of sea turtles and their eggs found either within Bahamian waters or on any of its hundreds of beaches.
After 12 months of public debate on how to protect the country’s marine resources, thousands of citizens spoke of their support for laws and regulations that, when enforced, will protect and conserve the country's marine natural resources for the benefit and enjoyment of all people. Five of the world’s seven sea turtle species inhabit the Bahamas, and previously it was legal to kill any sea turtle species found there except one, the hawksbill. The hawksbill turtle has been protected in Bahamian waters since 1986.
The new laws and amendments that are in force now represent the next phase of expanded marine conservation here. As The Bahamas formally extends strong legal protections to four of six known species of sea turtles in the Caribbean — hawksbill, green, leatherback, and loggerhead — these species can now swim and nest within this country in relative peace.
"The Nature Conservancy applauds the people of The Bahamas for their decision to expand the protection of sea turtles within our waters and on our beaches, and to back that decision with the weight of law," said Eleanor Phillips, Director of the Conservancy's Northern Caribbean Program.
"I grew up here among these islands and have known the play of light on these waters all of my life and I have always been proud to be a Bahamian. But today, I am especially proud of my country and I am extremely pleased, both personally and professionally, to support new laws that give one of the most endangered animals on Earth a little more hope for survival.
“I remember when sea turtles were a common sight in our waters and I am very hopeful that— as neighboring countries continue to join with the Bahamas in protecting their marine resources through the goals of the Caribbean Challenge — sea turtles will once again be common, not only in The Bahamas, but across all the nations of the Caribbean."
Since its announcement in 2008, The Bahamas has provided key leadership and support for the Caribbean Challenge. The goal of the Challenge — currently endorsed by five sovereign Caribbean nations — is to not only permanently establish a network of 20 million acres of marine protected areas across the territorial waters of at least 10 countries, but also to ensure that once established, the protected areas also receive sufficient, permanent funding through sustainable financing tools.
In addition to park user fees and concessions that are constant, renewable sources of operating funds, sustainable finance tools also include dedicated conservation trusts and endowments that enable private funds to leverage matching public funds to provide an unprecedented level of financial security for the permanent protection and management of parks and protected areas, thus ensuring their survival as healthy, functioning, natural areas forever.
To take just one example, the Conservancy led a team of scientists, researchers and students on a scientific expedition to explore the west side of Andros Island. They discovered a haven for baby sharks and sea turtles and a wealth of other natural life. With scientific support and expertise from the Conservancy, the Andros Conservancy and Trust (ANCAT) and the Bahamas National Trust are developing management plans and activities for an expanded national park on the west side of Andros. The Conservancy also works with island residents to support their wishes for an island-wide network of parks and to help foster the Bahamas’ longstanding conservation ethic.
The amendment outlawing the killing of sea turtles came after a year of extensive public debate about the issue, and support from Oceana, the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation. Oceana sent several formal support letters and garnered 14,000 emails from conservationists to the Bahamas’ Marine Resources Department director in support of the ban.
Outlawing the killing of sea turtles in its waters could also substantially benefit the tourism industry in the Bahamas, as the country derives more than 50 percent of its gross domestic product from tourists. A recent survey from Oceana found that scuba divers were willing to pay almost $30 more per dive for an increased chance to see a sea turtle in the wild.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.