The newly-appointed governor of Alexandria initiated a campaign against the hunting and selling of sea turtles in the Mediterranean province, pushing for the criminalizing of the practice with imprisonment and/or fines of up to LE50,000.
Endangered species of sea turtle are traditionally consumed as a delicacy in Alexandria and several other governorates, particularly the green turtle.
Mohamed Soltan, who was previously governor of Beheira, was appointed governor of Alexandria last week, and among his first moves in office was to initiate a campaign against fishermen, traders and restaurateurs found to be in possession of rare sea turtles. The governorate appealed to the public to be vigilant against this practice on the basis that sea turtles keep jellyfish populations, which have an adverse impact on tourism, in check.
Environmental police made several recent arrests in the markets of Manshiya district in Alexandria City, with a number of green turtles released back into the sea. Those apprehended will be dealt with according to Egypt’s constitution on the possession and trade of living or dead creatures, which stipulates penalties for anyone involved in damaging or destroying the natural habitats of endangered species.
But environmentalists have their concerns as to whether or not the criminalization of the practice will stop the hunting of sea turtles. Lawyer Ahmed Hosny from the Habi Center for Environmental Rights told Mada Masr that individuals involved in the practice are commonly fined in out of court settlements that aren’t an effective deterrent.
Eating turtle flesh or drinking the blood of these sea creatures is believed by some to strengthen immunity, Hosny explained, stressing that those who consume sea turtles must be made aware that they are an endangered species that need greater protection.
Environment Minister Khaled Fahmy dismissed the nutritional claims associated with turtle meat as “Mediterranean myths” in a recent interview with the privately owned Youm7 newspaper.
An academic study published in 2011 found that Egyptian fishermen poach several thousand sea turtles a year, a rate at which the species will not survive. They are often caught in their nests as they are laying eggs, according to Fahmy.
Hosny suggests the posting of environmental police in areas where sea turtles breed to ensure the babies hatch and grow to reach adulthood would be a more effective means of tackling the practice.
The Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Agency (HEPCA) has been working in the Red Sea governorate for a number of years to protect endangered species, including sea turtles. The organization says it isn’t only hunting that is the issue, coastal development is threatening the nesting and feeding grounds of several turtle species, with artificial light disorienting them.
MP Mohamed Fouad called for a parliamentary inquiry into illegal fishing in the Mediterranean last month, urging the Cabinet and Environment Ministry to take decisive action to prevent ecological violations.
The Environment Ministry now has a hotline — 19808 — for reports of illegal turtle hunting in the governorate of Alexandria.