Between 3,000 and 5,000 sea turtles come to lay their eggs on the island’s lagoon beaches every year. And if that number sounds impressive, REMMAT lists an average of 179 cases of dead turtles each year, whose carcasses are often buried or abandoned on the spot. Since its inception in 2010, the Mahorais Marine Mammal and Turtle Landing Network has identified over 600 dead turtles in Petit-Terre alone. And when we look at the causes of death, we understand that they are mainly related to poaching, i.e. on average 83% of cases.
Easily verifiable reality: Turtle bones and other shells are piling up on the island’s beaches.
It is in this context that REMMAT organized this Saturday a large operation to census the bones on the different beaches of Petit-Terre. And it’s with three goals: to update the network’s numbers, raise public awareness, and clean up the beaches while tackling health, safety, and aesthetic concerns.
So this Saturday, on a high tide day specially chosen for access to the reef plain, many groups of volunteers explored the various beaches of Petit-Terre. And, in particular, Papani, one of the most poached because of the inaccessibility of this place.
Armed with sacks of rice, the REMMAT teams set about the tedious collection of hundreds of turtle bones, pieces of shells, scales, vertebrae, and other abandoned remains.
“I knew it was one of the most poached beaches, but still it’s definitely a shock.”
This short sentence, thrown on the fly by one of the volunteer collectors, perfectly reveals the spectacle that Papani Beach presented at that time, a kind of open-air turtle cemetery.
Approximately every meter, bones form on the sand, mixing with the scattered remains of kvass and other waste. But a little further, on the edge of the vegetation adjacent to the cliff, the true face of poaching is revealed. In this far space on the ground lies a dozen shells, more or less recent, more or less large, definitive evidence of acts of barbarism committed by poachers. And they are putting more and more effort into covering up their misdeeds, partially burying the corpses or dumping them into the sea to prevent the mobilization of additional resources to monitor the spawning grounds.
In Papani alone, REMMAT members filled about thirty bags.
“We could come back tomorrow, we would get the same amount out of it,” breathes one of the volunteers. But heavy and numerous shells will remain in place, and in the coming days the detachments will pick them up like bags of bones.
During the entire operation and on various selected beaches, REMMAT counted 345 kg of bones.
An exuberant figure, especially when we know about the critical state of sea turtle species in the archipelago. All species listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are recognized there as “Vulnerable, Endangered or even Critically Endangered”. But turtle meat, priced at more than 50 euros per kilogram, continues to gain fans despite its latent toxicity. And although this is not, as detractors of the fight against poaching testify, “traditional consumption”.
Persistent poaching, which is imposed as a result of the meeting in the same area of exceptional biodiversity and devouring insecurity. But actors are mobilizing more and more every year around this problem, which affects more and more institutions, and the struggle continues.
As a reminder, anyone who finds a dead or stranded turtle should contact REMMAT on 06 39 69 41 41.