IN the mid-1980s, there was a dinner at a private home honouring a Bahamas National Trust guest speaker, a world-famous diver and underwater cinematographer whose documentaries had helped open the eyes of millions to the wonders of the undersea world. The main course featured what the Bahamian host believed was a fine Bahamian delicacy – sea turtle.
There were a few murmurs in the room but most of the small, select crowd of nature lovers and conservationists gulped the turtle with relish.
The meat at that dinner could have been green turtle, leatherback or loggerhead, it would not have mattered at the time. Few in The Bahamas were paying attention though loggerhead turtles had been listed on the threatened species list since 1978, long before that poor animal was killed and served.
Fast forward to last week when a 41-second video of a loggerhead being beaten to death in Grand Bahama went viral, sparking national outrage.
The cruelty of the murder was awful, despicable, gut-wrenching, sights and sounds that were almost too much to bear as the man in the video armed with a hammer repeatedly slammed and pounded the animal, ignoring its attempts to escape and its cries that sounded like a baby wailing.
As horrific as the slaughter was, the outcry of an enraged nation that followed instantly was so encouraging we believe it marked a turning point in Bahamian life.
Less than 12 hours after that video aired, three people, two men and a woman, were arrested, thanks to a four-member team from the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and the Assistant Superintendent of Fisheries Clement Campbell. The man and woman reportedly run a restaurant at West End, Grand Bahama and the other man was a fisherman. The meat, we are told, sold for $160. Apparently, authorities also found a turtle shell on the property. Social media went wild with support for the arrest.
After all the pleading of groups like the Bahamas National Trust, Save The Bays, BREEF, The Nature Conservancy, Friends of the Environment, Save Our Seas and others begging us to respect, preserve and conserve our precious natural resources, that support for the capture of the turtle killer showed Bahamians have finally got the message.
Climate change, stronger storms, eroding coastlines, fear of depletion of conch and fish stocks are all bitter pills to swallow but more Bahamians than ever are willing to take action. If we do not stand up for what remains, if we do not try to restore coral reefs and protect the life that depends on a healthy marine environment whether ocean or wetlands, we run the risk of losing more of what we love at a rate far faster than we ever imagined.
The turtle death was followed a few days later by yet another insult to our resources when the Defence Force spotted and stopped a vessel in the Exuma Land and Sea Park for fishing in the no-take zone of the national park where fishing is forbidden. The Defence Force turned vessel, crew and fishing gear over to police who charged crew with violating the Fisheries Act.
So in a single week Bahamians applauded environmental wrongdoers getting caught for violations of animal or marine resources rights that even a decade ago would have caused barely a ripple beyond environmental protection groups. In fact, when the Save Sea Turtles campaign started, it was a quiet movement swimming upstream with a few bumper stickers until letters to the editor and a major demonstration in Rawson Square caught the public’s attention, shaming Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham into signing an act in 2009 that made the capture, killing and sale of any sea turtle or its parts illegal in The Bahamas.
Mr. Ingraham said he knew he was doing the right thing even though he loved the taste of turtle. We applaud him for his courage.
The widespread public support a decade later is an indication Bahamians are beginning to treasure what we took for granted for too long, assuming that regardless of what we took today, more would be there tomorrow.
What is especially encouraging is that once rescued from exploitation, species do re-populate. Not far from Rose Island off New Providence, sea turtles that were once plentiful are back. Elsewhere off a private island in Exuma, six sea turtles swam playfully this weekend. Like those not too far from Rose Island, the turtles, some weighing hundreds of pounds, swam gently, not afraid of boats or people, living in the world they were intended to inhabit, unaware of the fuss being made about one of their own being slaughtered or the hard lesson the rest of us had to learn.