Sea turtle protection should be a global concern


I write with reference to recent articles in the local media as well as a special report on SBC concerning the appeal made by the Ministry of Environment to be more sensitive towards the protection of indigenous species following the discovery of two carcasses of green turtle which had been “barbequed” in their carapace as per practice of “the good old days”.

It was under the pressure of the British Government that laws were passed in Seychelles to ban the fishing, harpooning and consuming of turtles at the time that I was Chief Minister.
This was not at all a popular decision because turtle meat, fresh and/or salted (kitouz), had over the years acquired a special place in “la cuisine Seychelloise” taking into account the need over the years for our people to survive against the philosophy of “survival of the fittest” – (small fish feeds on algae and themselves are eaten by bigger fish who are themselves consumed by sharks).

Moreover, for years Seychellois craftsmen had acquired special skills with respect to tortoise shells producing such items as cigarettes boxes, spectacles and picture frames, combs, letter openers and other items which had resulted into a thriving and profitable local craft industry.
I’m sad to say that a few months after passing the legislation, when in London as a guest of the Lord Mayor of the city at a luncheon in GuildHall, I discovered that the prime item on the menu was styled “Prime Ocean Turtle soup”.

The point is that the turtle is a pelagic animal.  You catch him today next to Mahé and you are compelled by Seychelles law to return the creature to sea – unfortunately, the same turtle can in a matter of a few days be caught 300 miles away from Mahé and put into a Chinese boat heading for home.

Recently I was in Beijing where some friends invited me for lunch at a leading seafood restaurant.  When I got inside I found a huge tank in which were swimming several varieties of fish (maybe a few garupa caught off Desroches) including three medium sized turtles.  After sitting down and enjoying the “shark fin soup with abalone” which I had been served, I witnessed the arrival of some wealthy Chinese industrialists. After they were seated on a prime table I witnessed the host going to the tank with one of the Chefs to decide which one of the three turtles he was to select for the enjoyment of his guests that day.

Therefore the question is not merely one of getting island or coastal people to agree to the protection of the sea turtles but also to ensure that there is in place an international law which is respected and enforceable by all nations so that no one has the opportunity of enjoying quality turtle meat at the expense of the Seychellois people and/or the inhabitants of other Island States or coastal zones.

Furthermore I was extremely shocked when paging a “Paris Aujourd’hui” magazine on a flight from Paris to Atlanta in the USA recently to find a glossy page openly advertising for sale articles such as spectacles made of “genuine turtle shell”.

No doubt there is a need to look into this matter on a fully comprehensive basis. At the moment I must say I have some sympathy with the “rogues” who enjoyed the barbequed carapace on an isolated spot on Praslin when I think of the Chinese industrialists seated in the comfort of their five-star restaurant enjoying their turtle steak in a transparent way and without fear of being arrested!

James R. Mancham

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