March 26, 2002 – Federal wildlife agents are investigating the theft of two endangered sea turtles from an exhibit at Coral World Marine Park and attacks on three others.
"Corky," a 10-pound hawksbill turtle, and "Lucky," a 90-pound green turtle, were stolen from an outdoor pool at the marine park sometime before 6 a.m. Sunday, Trudie Prior, general manager at Coral World, said. The three other green turtles in the exhibit were stabbed with spears and are now receiving antibiotics under the care of a veterinarian.
Because of the serious injuries inflicted on the three green turtles, officials at the aquarium believe Corky and Lucky were probably killed, Prior said Tuesday.
"If your purpose was to take and release the turtles into the wild, you wouldn't spear the others," she said. "I can't even say how saddened we all are by this act. It's devastating."
The sea turtle exhibit has been one of the most popular features at Coral World since the marine attraction reopened in 1998 under new ownership and after extensive renovations, Prior said.
Corky became a local celebrity in 1999, when he was rescued from near death at sea in the V.I. National Park. (See "Still buoyant Corky's back at Coral World".) The turtle was diagnosed with a neurological disorder that prevented him from being able to dive and thus feed in the wild, so he became a permanent resident at Coral World, the marine park's curator, Donna Nemeth, said.
The green turtles have been under her care since they hatched in 1997 on Buck Island off St. Croix, Nemeth said. Two of those original hatchlings have since been returned to the wild, and Nemeth said she had planned to release the others when they got larger.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents are investigating the attack on the sea turtles, according to Michael Evans, manager of the agency's Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge on St. Croix. He said he has never heard of a theft of sea turtles from any zoo or aquarium.
"I've never heard of this type of thing happening anywhere else," Evans said. "We take this very seriously."
Hawksbill turtles are an endangered species, and green turtles are listed on the federal endangered species list as "threatened," Evans said. Any attack on either species is a felony under federal law, carrying penalties of up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
There is an international black market for products from endangered sea turtles, such as their meat and eggs, Evans said. He also noted that turtle meat is a traditional delicacy in the Caribbean.
The turtle exhibit will be closed until the three surviving green turtles have recovered from their injuries, Prior said.
There was no sign of forced entry into the Coral World compound, but a person could get in by climbing a rock wall facing the nearby sea, Prior said. Motion detectors in the area did not register any movement that night, and a security guard on duty did not hear anything, she said.
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