I'm sure the obvious question to most transplants reading this is: WTF? People really harvest pond turtles?
That's correct-a-mundo, dude. People hunt turtles. Sounds like a mismatched battle to me, but what hunting isn't a little handicapped in favor of humans, right?
Harvesting wild freshwater turtles for food and pets has long been part of Florida rural life. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has allowed the practice for decades with only a few restrictions on some threatened species. But lately, turtle harvesting has reached unprecedented levels with the shelled reptiles often sent overseas to Asian countries. Why Florida? Well, those Asian countries already decimated their own turtle populations and our harvesting laws are some of the most lenient in the country.
And how is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission responding? Half-heartedly at best. Last year, several scientists sent the FWC an urgent letter calling for more stringent limits on turtle-gathering. But in September, the FWC made a lackluster attempt at changing the rules by only restricting people to take five turtles per day.
So, do the math:
Five per day = 35 a week, which equals 1,820 per person each year.
That's without a commercial license. For those permitted, the FWC is allowing an additional 15 turtles per day, which comes out to 7,300 a year.
What was the FWC's reasoning? There's "no scientific evidence" that a drastic overhaul of regulations is in order.
Last year, the FWC received a letter from the International Union for Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission signed by 34 of the country's top scientists?
From the Orlando Sentinel:
"For the same reasons that it is illegal to kill female sea turtles on a nesting beach, it is a very bad idea to take adult turtles in large numbers from any ecosystem," the scientists wrote. "Turtles are extremely slow to reproduce. ... Florida currently supports one of the two largest centers of diversity of turtles in the world, with all of the more than two dozen species playing integral roles in a multitude of ecosystems."
If the FWC does not recognize those scientists, perhaps they can look at their own colleagues in other Southeastern states. South Carolina, in particular, has been aggressive about limiting turtle harvesting, which is one reason why reptile hunters are coming into Florida.
In fact, numerous experts from all over the world are lamenting a turtle "crisis." According to the Turtle Conservation Fund, 200 of the world's 300 surviving tortoises and freshwater turtles are threatened.
But, instead of further limiting harvests until the FWC scientists can do a proper study, the agency is content to stand back and see how bad it gets.
Can anything be done to change their minds? Perhaps. The FWC meets in Tampa on Thursday, Nov. 20, to develop a long-range plan for freshwater turtle harvesting. Supporters are calling on interested environmentalists to show up, or at least send a message with your thoughts.