Tue | Sep 29, 2020

RJRGLEANER Honour Awards | Melvyn Tennant: The turtle saviour

Published:Saturday | January 12, 2019 | 12:00 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Warden Melvyn Tennant shows student Alanna Williams a turtle during a turtle release session at Pearly Beach in St Mary.
A lover of the environment, Melvyn Tennant shows what a turtle egg looks like.

A few months after moving into his beachfront property in Oracabessa, St Mary, in 2003, Melvyn Tennant got riled up with his maintenance workers over what he thought was negligence in allowing bikers to create their own bypass through his backyard.

Quickly jumping to their own defence, the employees explained that the tracks were created by sea turtles.

That sparked instant inspiration in Tennant and his now deceased wife, Lydia, who took to the beach area behind their home in search of astonishment.

Tennant has been selected to receive a 2018 RJRGLEANER Honour Award for his dedication to the protection of Jamaica's endangered sea turtles and the coral reef in St Mary through activism and preservation activities.

"My wife and I came to Jamaica from England in 2003. The house we bought overlooked the beach, and we used to look out and see turtle tracks and thought someone actually drove a club bike up the beach. The tracks were so big. My workers then told me that it wasn't that at all and that turtles did it."

When the Tennants grabbed up their flashlights and embarked on an adventure one night along the beach, they encountered cruelty to animals like they never experienced before.

"When we went down there, the guy who looked after the house next door was digging up eggs. I accosted him and he put them back, but he came back and stole them anyway. Every turtle that came on the beach had their throats cut and their meat cut out. We discovered that the turtles were critically endangered," Tennant told The Gleaner in a recent interview.

"[Because of us], everybody who was there to kill turtles ran away. A working man at that time could earn a month's money by killing one turtle. Just think about the economics and the poverty that was around."

The killing stopped, but Tennant then discovered that turtle eggs were still being snatched. "When we realised, we managed to save three nests that season. We let out around 350 turtles."

Tennant, who deals a lot with hawksbill turtles, shared that one turtle can lay between 110 and 240 eggs per nest.




"An immature turtle would lay three nests in a season, then it goes up to as much as seven nests per season. My biggest turtle lays seven nests in a season, with 220 to 240 eggs in each nest. Over the years, we moved from a few hatchlings to roughly 21,000. That is progress. If they go out [to sea] by themselves at nights, you lose them to predators like birds, mongoose, dogs and cats. We move nests and protect them, doubling their amount and dramatically improving their chance at survival."

Confident that turtles serve as an avenue to boost Jamaica's tourism earnings by helping it exceed the four-million-tourist-arrival mark, Tennant said, "We want the number of sea turtles surviving to improve."

The attraction has enticed the likes of superstars, such as Will Smith; diplomats from various embassies locally, and the ordinary tourist; who, he said greatly appreciates new attractions like watching sea-turtles in operation. His vision is to witness the materialisation of a sea turtle network.

"This year, we hope the National Environment and Planning Agency will approve a sea-turtle network, so we would go into areas to find where turtles are laying and work with fishermen and groups to get them trained in monitoring and protecting to create tourist opportunities. We get people that drive from Negril to see turtles over here. They don't have to travel that distance. What we need to do is get the network sorted. When people in a particular area need help, I can provide that. It is amazing how it would grow.

"My turtles go in two different places. One group will go from here into the Gulf of Mexico, to the Texas coast, down to Venezuela, and the current brings them back here. At the back of their brains, they have like a GPS system. They can read the magnetic forces of the earth. [Interesting to note] is that if they were born on my beach, the only place they breed is my beach."