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Green sea turtles are traditional foods in CNMI

By Nazario Rodriguez Jr. SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 30, 2010) - Poaching remains the biggest threat to the continuing decline of turtle populations in the Pacific, including the Northern Mariana Islands, where no single person has ever been prosecuted despite stricter laws.

According to fishery biologist Irene Kinan Kelly of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the best way to combat this problem is to re-instill in the present generation traditional practices, along with proper enforcement.

"Chiefs in the past have their own effective way of preserving the turtles," she said.

Kelly is the Sea Turtle Recovery Coordinator for the Protected Resources Division of the Pacific Islands Regional Office under the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of NOAA.

Kelly made a presentation about the program at the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) conference room yesterday.

"I'm here to do a cite visit and show our full support to the turtle program in the CNMI," Kelly said after the presentation.

Those who attended the presentation were directors John Joyner of the Coastal Resource Management office and Sylvan Igisomar of DFW and some of their staff.

Kelly said her visit aims to help stakeholders better understand the program and direct them to be able to meet local objectives.

"We have to really protect the turtles and preserve them for the future," said Kelly, who is leaving today for a similar visit to Guam.

While the full protection of sea turtles is guaranteed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, poaching is prevalent in the Pacific, including in the CNMI.

Green, hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles are included on the list of protected species under the Endangered Species Act and are known to inhabit the waters around the Marianas archipelago.

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council reported that about 1,000-2,000 green sea turtles forage in the CNMI.

[PIR editor’s note: Marianas Variety reports that 4 defendants who pleaded guilty after admitting possession of a green sea turtle have been sentenced.]

This data was based on near shore surveys conducted jointly between the CNMI-DFW and the NMFS around the southern islands.

WPR-FMC notes that the green sea turtle is a traditional food of the native population and although harvesting them is illegal, divers have been known to take them at sea and others have been taken as nesting females.

Taking of adult female turtles during nesting season is strictly prohibited under the law.

"Turtle eggs are also harvested in the CNMI," it said.

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