Each year, Coral World spends thousands of dollars rehabilitating endangered sea turtles and educating the public, particularly school children, about how they can help to protect these animals. In March 2002, vandals invaded Coral World's turtle pool and inflicted a terrible blow to our turtles, Coral World's staff and the community. Our staff arrived in the early morning hours to discover two turtles missing from the turtle pool and presumed dead, and the remaining three stabbed and critically injured. We were shocked and of course devastated because we had been nurturing these turtles from 1997 when they hatched on St. Croix.
Fortunately, only days before, we had released two of these beautiful creatures to the wild or undoubtedly they also would have been attacked. After several months of intensive care, we returned the three surviving turtles to their pool where the public could once again appreciate and learn from them. Despite the posting of rewards for information, despite the investigation that followed, enforcement officials were unable to collect sufficient credible evidence to bring the perpetrators to justice.
We have another chance now to send a strong message to those who continue to break the law by capturing and killing sea turtles. On Aug. 28, U.S. Customs officers, chasing a boat and expecting to make a night drug bust on the water, instead found themselves with a boat full of turtles. In the middle of the night, these concerned officers contacted a Coral World aquarist and together they brought the three large green sea turtles (one weighed 300 pounds) to Coral World for safekeeping. Special agents from the NOAA Fisheries law enforcement office arrived from Florida to investigate. Although at least one accomplice escaped, one offender is in custody.
We understand that there is likely to be a plea bargain in this case and hope that the punishment for this crime will be sufficiently severe to deter poaching in the future, not just a slap on the wrist. The U.S. Attorney's Office and the Court must issue a strong warning that poaching of endangered sea turtles will not be tolerated. If the penalty is minimal, this offender, those who stole and attacked the Coral World turtles and other poachers will understand that we are not serious about enforcing the federal law that protects endangered sea turtles. We will be giving them license to pursue their illegal activities.
Coral World Ocean Park
Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to [email protected].