The bloody images of marine turtles slaughtered on the French island of Mayotte on Saturday night highlight the shortage of any real means of protection against poaching for these protected species.
Several turtles were killed with machetes as they came to lay eggs on the beach of their birth. Sea Shepherd volunteers on patrol interrupted the poachers, who fled leaving behind machetes, knives and an agonizing slaughtered turtle, which had a slow and painful death.
The next night, four turtle heads were found on the same beach, buried under rocks but exposed by the receding tide. Two belonged to turtles killed less than 24 hours earlier and the two others were killed during the previous week.
Officially, more than 230 marine turtles have been poached on the Indian Ocean island of Mayotte in 2016 and close to 300 in 2015 according to the local marine protection group, REMMAT (Réseau Echouage Mahorais de Mammifères Marins et de Tortues Marines) which says in a statement that: "The census undertaken throughout the year by the network reflects only the visible part of the poaching revealed by the traces and bones left on the beaches: it is only an estimation of the actual number of acts poaching on Mayotte
Volunteers discover the heads of four turtles killed by poachers. Photo by Sea Shepherd.
For example, the marine park of Saziley, a nesting site for turtles, is an essential ecological and tourism asset. But it is nevertheless an unattended place where poaching jeopardizes the survival of turtles, some which are critically endangered and close to extinction.
With the help of volunteers and the support of local sympathizers, Sea Shepherd is launching Operation Nyamba (which means turtle in Mahorais). Volunteers will actively patrol targeted beaches to discourage poachers by their presence.
"This mission is a first in Mayotte but probably not the last one. It responds to the alarm raised by the Mahorais, distressed to see their island waste away far from the concerns of mainland France. We wish to collaborate with all those in Mayotte who want to work to preserve what remains of an invaluable natural heritage that we must preserve for its intrinsic value and for future generations," said Lamya Essemlali, President of Sea Shepherd France and campaign leader of Operation Nyamba.