#TurksandCaicos, April 5, 2021 – The DECR is hoping a recent appeal will work to reduce the non-natural interactions between some guests on marine excursions and the country’s marine inhabitants. In a warning notice, the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources takes a firm stance in protection of animals and their habitats.
“The Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) are aware of a number of instances where watersports operators have allowed their guests to interact with marine life (in particular marine mammals) in an inappropriate manner.
The Department takes this opportunity to remind all vendors on the water that the Fisheries Protection Ordinance 10.08, and its Regulations, National Parks Ordinance 10.01, and its Regulations, govern all Waters and National Parks in the Turks & Caicos Islands.”
Conservation laws make it illegal for people to feed marine animals or aim to attract them with the enticement of food tossed into the ocean. When it comes to marine mammals the law is also outlined in the notice: ‘No personal shall engage in fishing for, molest or otherwise interfere with any marine mammal. Similarly, the following activities are prohibited within all national parks, nature reserves and sanctuaries, and will not be tolerated.’
The activities to which the Department refers are these:
- The taking of any animal or plant by any method on land or at sea except to the extent permitted in any fishing zone;
- The destruction of, or damage or injury to, any animal or plant;
- The removal of sand, rock, coral, coral-rag or any calcareous substance;
- Anchor damage to coral reef structures living or dead and associated marine plant and animal life.
Breaking this law is not only frowned upon from an environmental perspective but heavily penalized under Turks and Caicos law.
“As per the regulations, any person who contravenes any provision of these regulations commits and offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of $50, 000 or to a term of imprisonment of twelve months or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
The message is clearly a clarion call for preservation to be paramount and one for a stronger commitment by those who earn a living on the waters to keep TCI’s part of the Atlantic Ocean free of violation or intrusion; the message is to be picked up boat excursion operators.
“We recommend that, for the safety of the wildlife as well as your guests, the promotion of such activities be amended forthwith to align with the legal requirements as set out above.”
Added to the notice were the rules for Whale Watching and Dolphin Spotting.
- Just FLOAT! When you are near marine mammals the best is to just float. They will come near you if they want to. Show respect by just floating.
- Do not splash with your arms or legs excessively.
- Do not try to touch them, under any circumstances. Dolphins, in particular, are very loving and affectionate with each other but that doesn’t mean they want to be touched by a human, any human. No matter how much love you have for them, it is disrespectful to touch them.
- Do not free dive into their space: this is for your safety and theirs.
- Do not dive down towards a resting group of marine mammals. If you dive down towards them and they haven’t noticed you, while resting, they will wake up and get startled. They need to sleep to function right, please don’t dive down towards them.
- Do not to feed them. Apart from being illegal (Fisheries Protection Ordinance Reg 9(1)(g), this is very dangerous.
- Do not begin interaction or play games with dolphins. Wild dolphins like to play games with each other. Dolphins do not initiate this game with a human, it is the humans who start the interaction. Let’s be observers and be content with it.
- Stay away from pregnant female marine mammals. If there are any pregnant females, there will also be a courageous alpha protector / escort watching nearby and they can get aggressive if they think that there is any threat to those pregnant moms.
- If a marine mammal charges at you (just like bull would) get out of the water immediately. You have done something that has made the individual aggressive.
- Do not litter. This means that if you dropped anything (hair tie, snorkel, fins, etc ) you must retrieve it from the bottom and if you can’t reach the bottom you must find someone that can. Protecting their habitat is also protecting the marine life.
- If you ever see anyone doing anything that could hurt marine mammals, anything on this short list, please speak up and educate the offenders. Take the time to explain to them in a nice way, and why they should change their behavior.