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Group launched to stop alleged turtle poaching

November 8, 2014 - 11:03pm

Something’s fishy in Puako — at least according to handyman and charter boat captain Will Little.

“It has come to my attention that there is an illegal slaughter of reef fish and the taking of protected green sea turtles. There doesn’t seem to be any way to get the locals, either residents or law enforcement, to do anything so I am appealing to the world news and Fox News’ ability to reach the masses,” Little wrote to West Hawaii Today. “It is my job to take people out and enjoy what God has given us — dolphins, whales, turtles and a myriad of other beautiful creatures. It has come to my attention that there is a very small group of people not from our island going in at night and killing pretty much everything in sight. With all of the federal monies spent on worthless programs, I appeal to you guys to bring this to the attention of the world so that maybe we can put a stop to it.”

Little claims honu have completely disappeared from the first public access area after M’s Puako General Store, a spot he and his family regularly go to view “these beautiful creatures.” He added, “They didn’t just move; they’re gone.” Besides visiting this area frequently in the past month or so, Little said he talked to several residents and area fishermen who also noticed the same thing. These community members allegedly told Little that they have been finding people catching fish they’re not supposed to catch and in illegal ways, along with poaching turtles. Also, vehicles were allegedly seen arriving with large coolers in the back and departing late at night. However, Little has not personally witnessed the illegal actions and said none of people he talked to wanted to be interviewed.

“This is a natural resource that needs to be protected. I am not an environmental nazi nor a tree hugger, however I do care about this a lot,” Little said. “They are eating these turtles and they are breaking the law. Help me put these worthless people behind bars and put an end to the slaughter. They use chlorine balloons and wipe out entire schools of fish and take, take, take.”

According to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the two types of sea turtles most frequently observed in nearshore waters in Hawaii are the green sea turtle (honu) and hawksbill sea turtle (ea). The public is advised to not touch, pick up, restrain, jump over, straddle, pursue, ride, harass, harm or otherwise disturb these animals.

The green sea turtle is listed as threatened and the hawksbill sea turtle is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Although green sea turtle populations are recovering, they still face threats, including destruction and alteration of nesting and feeding areas, incidental capture in commercial and recreational fisheries, entanglement in and ingestion of marine debris, poaching, disease, vessel strikes and climate change, DLNR stated.

Sea turtles are protected by the Hawaii Revised Statutes and Hawaii Administrative Rules. Although federal and state wildlife conservation laws differ in some respects, all actions that can harm, injure, kill or otherwise disturb sea turtles, and done without a permit, is considered a disturbance and therefore illegal, DLNR stated.

Little talked on Oct. 27 in depth with an enforcement officer with DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement. He was told, “they simply don’t have the resources or manpower to deal with it.” Nor does DLNR do nighttime investigations, he added.

DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward said a DOCARE officer did speak with Little about his concerns and there was no mention of chlorine use at the time.

“Officers are looking into this complaint,” she said. “We encourage people to call DOCARE with any specific details.”

To report suspected violations, call DOCARE at 587-0077 or 643-DLNR (3567) and NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement at (800) 853-1964.

Meanwhile, Little is determined to catch the poachers and other violators in the act by forming a neighborhood watch, even though it’s not his neighborhood. He lives in Kailua-Kona.

Little plans have a team of roving volunteers, working in shifts all night and in the early morning hours, to document wrongdoings via observation, videotaping and photographing. He said this team would also approach people doing questionable things, inform them of their violations and the importance of protecting marine life, demand that they open their coolers for inspection, and make citizen’s arrests if needed. With every suspected violator, the team would report him or her with evidence to DLNR, with the hope citations and other actions by the state agency occur.

Under state law, killing a sea turtle may carry a fine up of to $10,000 and up to one year in jail. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, killing a turtle may result in fines exceeding $3,500 and up to one year in jail.

Anyone interested in being a part of Little’s neighborhood watch can email wkl.little@gmail.com.

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