A file photo of an unidentified woman sitting on a Leatherback turtle. If caught in the act perpetrators can face hefty fines of up to $100,000 or two years in prison.

The government has refused to grant exemptions to turtle conservationists to patrol the nation’s beaches during the turtle nesting season.

Speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday, Deyalsingh reiterated that the government had no intention of changing its position on the granting of exemptions saying the night time ban will remain in effect.

“Now should be the safest time for turtles because no one is allowed on the beach to poach eggs or to kill the turtles or ride on their backs,” Deyalsingh said.

But the corporate secretary of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea Gary Aboud said this decision will negatively impact the turtles as poachers will continue to kill them if there are no patrols by the conservationists.

“Banning of midnight beach patrols makes absolutely no sense and will encourage an escalation of illegal poaching,” Aboud said.

He noted that in 2020, illegal poaching increased.

“These marine turtles are being protected internationally and locally, rural communities all across Trinidad and Tobago, depend on turtle nesting and the eco-tourism industry as their source of income,” Aboud pointed out.

He added, “These communities have voluntarily engaged in nightly patrols to deter poachers and protect these ESS (environmentally sensitive species). These patrols are an important aspect of our national development and have safeguarded and protected these vulnerable species while protecting our country’s million-dollar eco-tourism industry.”

Aboud appealed to the minister to reconsider his position,

“This decision is devoid of any sound logic and contrary to the promotion of a sustainable eco-tourism industry and the protection of our environmentally sensitive marine turtles.”

Aboud also noted that for decades civic-minded community-based organisations—CBO’s —have patrolled these beaches at a time when government authorities failed to protect the turtles.

“It was confirmed in 2020 that as a result of the implementation of Covid-19 Regulations and the lack of patrolling by CBO’s there was an upsurge in poaching and marine turtle destruction,” Aboud said.

Meanwhile, officials from the community-based organisation Nature Seekers also called on the government to reconsider its position. They too said poaching was on the rise.

“We agree! Now should be the safest time for turtles with no one being allowed on beaches at night. Unfortunately, this is not the case as several conservation groups noted increases in turtle poaching across both islands during the closure of beaches in 2020,” the group spokesperson said in a release.

Nature Seekers said turtles were a natural treasure and the government should reconsider its position to stop conservationists from patrolling the beaches at nights.

T&T represents the largest leatherback turtle nesting site in the Northwest Atlantic.

Beaches currently remain closed to the public from 6 pm to 6 am as outlined in the Public Health [2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-n CoV)] (No. 4) Regulations, 2021.