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Hatchlings (baby turtles) on the beach.

Member of Parliament for Cumuto Manazanilla Dr Rai Ragbir is demanding that the Government immediately engage with stakeholders in an effort to protect the leatherback turtles, as the present health regulation prevents turtle conservationists from patrolling the beaches at night to protect the turtles from poachers.

The MP is the latest to join the growing chorus of condemnation after the Minister of Health said he would not be granting an exemption to conservationists to go to the beaches outside of the present 6 am to 6 pm regulations.

Ragbir said he is worried that the leatherback turtles could face their most difficult nesting season in 2021, as a direct result of a decision by the Health Minister to deny permission to Conservationists groups to patrol nesting sites.

The Cumuto Manzanilla MP, whose constituency borders a huge chunk of the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, and whose shores provide nesting grounds for the endangered leatherback turtle said in a statement, “this decision by Government is ludicrous, bewildering, thoughtless and inhumane.”

He said he is demanding that the Government immediately engage stakeholders in dialogue and discussion, in an effort to sensibly revisit this decision.

Ragbir added: “So what you have here, is that the beaches are closed from 6 pm to 6 am, a full 12 hours, and so without any form of patrol taking place, it leaves an open window for poachers to conduct their illegal trade out of the scrutiny of the entire public”.

He noted: “Given the vast, open and well-ventilated area under consideration, together with mask-wearing and groups of no more than 10 persons, it remains vastly unlikely that this can be a recipe for the spreading of the coronavirus”.

The MP said the only deterrent that is under consideration at this time is that harming turtles or their habitat may incur a penalty of $100,000 and imprisonment for up to two years under the Conservation of Wildlife Act.

However, he said, “Given the large geographical location of nesting sites, and the extremely limited human resources of the state, it is hardly likely that any perpetrator would ever be caught.”

Ragbir said this latest decision is yet another example of, what he described as the government’s inability and incompetence in managing the indirect result of the Coronavirus.

He warned: “The Government must be able to find workable strategies of continuing to operate the economy, while at the same time managing the virus; the country and the economy has been shut down for one year now, with dire social consequences, and therefore this simply cannot continue”.

The Cumuto Manzanilla MP reminded the government about the significance of the leatherback turtles making this country their biggest nesting ground and contributing to the country’s eco-tourism.

Already several non-governmental organisations -NGOs- and environmental groups have joined forces in a petition asking the government to reverse its decision for the sake of protecting the Environmentally Sensitive Species.