“We are the destroyers of the Leatherback turtles.”
An unexpected and incredible confession from Kyle Charles, the President of the Grande Riviere Young Fishermen Association.
In part one of The Unwanted Catch, fishermen explained how Leatherback turtles become entangled in their sprawling nets, causing them to cut their losses, sometimes costing the turtles their lives.
The fishermen, acutely aware of the damage they are causing to the endangered turtle population, have proposed a solution. They have called on the government to build a breakwater system in the far eastern area of the Grande Riviere Beach, at approximately 75 meters long, protruding from the eastern bay’s rocky cliffs.
A breakwater is a structure constructed to form an artificial harbour to protect from the impacts of waves.
The proposed protected beach area would span approximately 100 metres between the Grande Riviere River’s mouth and the Grande Riviere Beach’s eastern end. According to the fishermen, no turtle nesting occurs in that area due to the abundance of rocks.
Institute of Marine Affairs tracking data from 2000-2001 show that at the start of the turtle season, Leatherbacks nest close to the river but gradually move westward as the season progresses through August.
The proposed breakwater would eliminate using nets, at least for those fishermen who operate out of Grande Riviere. This self-imposed moratorium on nets would run during the entirety of the turtle nesting season, from March 1 through August 31.
Charles explained, “we, as fishermen, decide we can rest our nets and go out there and do line fishing. By just the 20-so odd fishermen here, that’s done 20 nets less in the sea to harm the turtles during the turtle season.”
Every fisherman Guardian Media interviewed expressed support for the plan.
O’Neil Coa, a Grande Riviere fisherman who is temporarily out of plying his trade due to turtle damage to his nets, reiterated the call. “A breakwater would help, so we do other fishing like line fishing, night fishing, switchering, banking, so we don’t have to use the nets.”
Given fishermen have already admitted that they have caught up to 30 turtles in one night in one net, this proposal could bring significant benefits to the dwindling turtle population.
The fishermen also stand to gain.
Along the north coast, large waves from long period swells and rough seas occur year-round. In Grande Riviere, fishermen seek refuge within the banks of the Grande Riviere River, but this brings its host of problems. During the dry season, the mouth of the river contracts.
Charles explained, “you need seven to eight guys to help push [you] out. To come back in, you need almost the same amount of guys to do it. If you don’t have that, you can’t go out there.”
When the wet season arrives, anchoring in the river becomes hazardous. Coa said, “Remember, here is the rainforest. When the rain falls, the water comes down, and the boats turn over. It’s a great risk. A great risk.”
Perhaps, the most significant benefit to building a breakwater would be fishermen being able to utilize the never-before-used Grand Riviere Fishing Facility that has been laid to waste since it was constructed in 2013. It then begs the question, why has the facility fallen into a state of disarray, and will the government even consider building a breakwater system in such an environmentally sensitive area?