Protected Species Penalties Toughened

November 29, 2011

New measures approved by Parliament on Friday [Nov.25] stiffen penalties for harming the island’s protected species including the Cahow, Bermuda Skink, Spotted Eagle Ray, Green Turtle, Diamondback Terrapin, Yellowwood, Bermuda Killifish, Bermuda Bedstraw, Bermuda Snowberry and Bermuda Cedar.

Amendments to the Protected Species Act will see penalties increased to a maximum of a $25,000 fine or two years imprisonment for offences related to species falling under the Category 1 classification.

Minister Michael Weeks said, “The low penalties for harming protected species has unfortunately done little to halt unnecessary killing or destruction and they are no longer in line with other environmental legislation.”

“This is illustrated by the fact that despite an aggressive public relations campaign and signage prohibiting fishing of Eagle Rays on Flatts Bridge the Department of Conservation Services continues to find the remains of the Spotted Eagle Ray in the area.”

Categories 1 protected species include the Cahow, the Spotted Eagle Ray, the Bermuda Skink and the Green Turtle. Category 2 includes species that are less vulnerable than Category 1 such as the Diamondback Terrapin turtle, the Yellowwood tree] and the Bermuda Killifish found in Bermuda ponds.

Category 3 is the least restrictive and includes Bermuda Bedstraw grass/plant, Bermuda Snowberry shrub/plant and Bermuda Cedar. ”The amendments will revise the level of fines to bring them into line with similar legislation,” said Minister Weeks.

Category 3 species will remain at the current level of $5,000 or 6 months imprisonment, Category 2 will be increased to $15,000 or one year imprisonment and Category 1 to $25,000 or two years imprisonment.

The Amendment to the Protected Species Act will be debated in the Senate tomorrow [Nov.30]

The Minister’s full statement follows below:

Mr. Speaker, the Amendment before the House today seeks to amend the Protected Species Act in order to better conserve Bermuda’s endangered species.

The Protected Species Act 2003 provides the Government the ability to conserve and recover Bermuda’s most threatened plants and animals, including our national bird the Cahow, the Bermuda Skink – one of the world’s oldest rock lizards, and the Spotted Eagle Ray, the newest addition (2010) that was jigged as it passed under Flatts Bridge. These species serve, as much as anything else, to promote the truly unique identity that is Bermuda.

Mr Speaker. The ultimate goal of this Act is to promote recovery of threatened species to the point where they have a large enough population to survive without assistance, requiring no active support from mankind and they can therefore be removed from the list. The smaller the list the healthier our environment!

Unfortunately many of our native species (those that arrived without the assistance of mankind) and endemic species (those that are unique to Bermuda) are under threat due to habitat loss, competition from invasive species, climate change and pollution.

It is therefore the Department of Conservation Services’ role to oversee the recovery of our threatened plants and animals and to raise awareness of their importance through its educational programs run by the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo.

Mr Speaker, some species are so threatened that they are on the verge of extinction and therefore the absolute protection afforded by the current Act is necessary in order to ensure their survival – with conservation efforts only implemented by experts.

However the definition of what constitutes an offense under the current Act is very prohibitive. It restricts having in ones possession a protected species, parts of one, their transportation and actions that would constitute maintenance.

This blanket prohibition effectively stops positive interaction with certain species, for example endangered plants, which would greatly benefit from the assistance of the wider public in their recovery.

It therefore has had the unintended consequence of restricting the number of species that could be added, as well as the recovery methods that can be employed.

Mr Speaker, the low penalties for harming protected species has unfortunately done little to halt unnecessary killing or destruction and they are no longer in line with other environmental legislation.

This is illustrated by the fact that despite an aggressive public relations campaign and signage prohibiting fishing of Eagle Rays on Flatts Bridge the Department of Conservation Services continues to find the remains of the Spotted Eagle Ray in the area.

Consequently, this Bill addresses these issues by adopting three levels or categories of protection that recognize the threats and measures needed to conserve these endangered plants and animals.

  • Category 1 is the most restrictive and is equivalent to the existing protection afforded under the Act. Species in this category are at such low population levels that only scientific or expert intervention can be undertaken to ensure survival. Categories 1 protected species include the Cahow, the Spotted Eagle Ray, the Bermuda Skink and the Green Turtle.
  • Category 2 includes species that are less vulnerable than Category 1 but which still need expert assistance to survive. Category 2 allows for a certain level of recovery by licensed researchers in specific habitats. Species included the Diamondback Terrapin (an aquatic/land turtle), the Yellowwood (a native tree) and the Bermuda Killifish (an Endemic fish found in Bermuda ponds).

Category 3 is the least restrictive and provides practical but effective protection of certain species, which are an integral part of everyday living, without subjecting members of the general public to prosecution for performing actions that would otherwise fall under the blanket prohibition.

This prescription will help promote public interaction on an island wide scale. Examples of Category 3 species include Bermuda Bedstraw (type of grass/plant), Bermuda Snowberry (type of shrub/plant) and Bermuda Cedar.

Mr Speaker, species for inclusion to the Act will continue to be added after examination of the best scientific information available, using the internationally recognized International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria. Each species will be examined to establish whether they are critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable on a global scale.

Once it has been determined that they should be protected under the Act, each new species will be assessed for the appropriate level of conservation best suited for our local level and categorised accordingly. This will be based on well-defined criteria assessing:

  • The level of expertise needed for each stage of recovery;
  • The best strategy for successful recovery of the species; and,
  • The level of involvement of the Community in the preservation of the species.

Mr Speaker, the Amendment Bill also recognizes that certain protected species benefit from active management, therefore planting and minor maintenance that will not harm their health to take place can take place without unnecessary oversight.

In cases where a species has to be removed for health and safety reasons, for essential services or other needs deemed important by the Minister, the Act will allow for the issuing of a special permit. This will allow for instances such as the transplanting of a tree or moving of a nest. These permits will be issued with the assistance of the Department of Conservation Services.

Mr Speaker, in order to allow the creation of these levels of protection, the definition of what constitutes an offense under the Act has been revised thus allowing certain actions to be undertaken for the lower levels of protection. As such ownership and local transport of Category 3 protected species will be allowed.

The amendments will revise the level of fines to bring them into line with similar legislation. This will better reflect the importance of each level of threatened species. Consequently Category 3 species will remain at the current level of $5,000 or 6 months imprisonment, Category 2 will be increased to $15,000 or one year imprisonment and Category 1 to $25,000 or two years imprisonment.

Mr Speaker, the amendments to the Principal Act allows Bermuda to better protect its endangered plants and animals while greatly increasing the chances of successful recovery by including the public in the process. With these brief remarks, I now move that the Bill be read a second time.

Thank you Mr. Speaker

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Comments (4)

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  1. MinorMatters says:

    Can abused and victimized children in Bermuda be afforded the same protection, please Mr. Minister?

  2. @Work says:

    In order for the increased penalties to work, someone will have to be caught and that does not seem to be happening.

  3. Liars says:

    Another horn tooting wannabe Minister