|Green Turtle / Brevard Times File Photo|
WASHINGTON. D.C. – Federal authorities arrested eight people in the cities of Arroyo and Patillas, Puerto Rico, yesterday on felony and misdemeanor charges for the illegal take, possession and sale of endangered sea turtles and their parts for human consumption as well as aiding and abetting violations of the Endangered Species and Lacey Act.
Guzman Herpin, 34, Madelyne Montes Santiago, 37, Edwin Alamo Silva, 50, Juan Soto Rodriguez, 45, Ricardo Dejesus Alamo, 33, Jose Javier Rodriguez Sanchez, 40, Iris Lebron Montanez, 53, and Miguel Rivera Delgado, 55, all residents of Patillas and Arroyo, were arrested Thursday and made their appearances in federal court. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Indictments contain only charges and are not evidence of guilt. Defendants are presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.
In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) initiated an undercover operation to investigate the illegal trade in sea turtles for human consumption. During this investigation, it was determined that these illegal sales of sea turtle meat, confirmed through DNA analysis conducted by the FWS Forensic Lab, have resulted in the illegal take of 15 individual endangered hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate) and 7 endangered green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas).
“Hawksbill and green sea turtles are protected by Puerto Rican law, nationally under the Endangered Species Act as well as internationally under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna),” said U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Resident Agent in Charge David Pharo. “The protection from the illegal take and sale of this and of other marine life organisms is a priority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is instrumental to the health of marine ecosystems for where they exist.”
The waters around Puerto Rico are designated as a critical habitat for the hawksbill and the green sea turtle. The most significant nesting for the hawksbill within the U.S. occurs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each year, about 500-1000 hawksbill nests are laid on Mona Island, Puerto Rico. The green sea turtle population has declined by 48-65 percent over the past century. Puerto Rico is also home to nesting sites for the endangered leatherback sea turtle, the largest species of turtle in the world. The leatherback sea turtle suffered a severe population crash due to human harvesting of its meat and eggs, and the destruction of its nesting habitat by beachfront development.
The commonwealth of Puerto Rico contains six national wildlife refuges (Cabo Rojo, Culebra, Desecheo, Laguna Cartagena, Navassa Island, Vieques) and is home to 25 endangered and threatened animal species, 21 of which are found nowhere else on earth. For instance, there are only 200 Puerto Rican parrots remaining, with less than 50 left in the wild, making it one of the 10 rarest birds on Earth. The island is also home to 49 endangered and threatened plant species. There are 37 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and Superfund cleanup sites on Puerto Rico.