Sea Shepherd volunteers and local police have had rocks thrown at them during efforts to save turtles. Less than two weeks after publishing images of poached sea turtles on the French island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, Sea Shepherd volunteers interrupted a poaching operation on the night of July 7.
The island in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mozambique is home to a 68,381km² protected marine reserve, rich in ocean wildlife. Yet the sea turtles are often killed by poachers who sell the meat on the black market.
When the volunteers arrived at the beach known as Moya 1, one of the most popular tourist beaches on the Petit Terre island, they spotted a 4x4 vehicle, its lights switched off as it waited to pick up poached turtle meat. The guards, who should have been there to protect the turtles who come to lay their eggs, were nowhere to be seen.
Down on the beach, the volunteers found two turtles ripped open with their eggs scattered in the sand. Sea Shepherd alerted the local gendarmes. The poachers, who had run to hide on a hill overlooking the beach, began throwing rocks at the volunteers and police from above. No one was hurt, however the poachers also set the Sea Shepherd volunteers’ car on fire.
Despite the intervention of three police officers, who helped seize some of the turtle meat which was left behind by the fleeing poachers, no arrests could be made because the security on the beach that night was grossly insufficient compared to the scale of the threat, says Sea Shepherd.
“France seems to remain blind and deaf concerning the social and ecological crisis which is raging in Mayotte,” said President of Sea Shepherd France, Lamya Essemlali. “France is letting its overseas department perish, a place which is home to one of the world’s largest lagoons, rich in local biodiversity. The only law which seems to prevail on this island is the law of the jungle. This condition has caused social and environmental chaos which is hard to imagine in continental France.”
Sea Shepherd launched Operation Nyamba in June 2017 at the request of locals and work with them to fight the poaching with direct action. “Even though the circumstances on the ground turned out to be worse and more dramatic than we expected, the situation has only reinforced our determination,” says Essemlali. “We will not give up on Mayotte.”
Sea Shepherd has released video footage of the incident on YouTube.