By anguillian March 7, 2016 10:48




In mid-2014, the Anguilla National Trust (ANT) received a grant of over US$23,000 through Fauna & Flora International’s Flagship Species Fund to support research on Anguilla’s endangered sea turtle species. Research involved the use of GPS technology to identify important foraging areas of sea turtles, in-depth analysis of sea turtle reproductive success, and raising public awareness about the endangered status of these animals and national conservation efforts.
With the help of volunteers, the ANT has focussed much of its research effort in identifying the status of Anguilla’s nesting sea turtles by monitoring 12 mainland and five offshore cay beaches for sea turtle nesting activity. Results indicate that three species of sea turtles nest on Anguilla’s beaches: Green sea turtles (endangered); Hawksbill sea turtles (critically endangered); and Leatherback sea turtles (critically endangered). These sea turtles are known to nest several times throughout their breeding season which generally runs from March through November. They may visit a nesting ground several times but may not always lay eggs, depending on the environment and the level of disturbance that they may encounter.

Results of the ANT sea turtle monitoring programme indicate that number of recorded tracks of the same width on the same beach, within the same breeding season (and indication of repeat nesting attempts by a single nesting turtle) for each of the monitored mainland beaches, was extremely low. These findings may suggest that Anguilla’s sea turtles may not be as committed to nesting on the same beach (as they may be on other Caribbean islands): regional research has proven that onturtle3ce a turtle return to its birth region and has selected a beach for nesting, the turtle will tend to re-nest in relatively close proximity to that beach (within a radius of 5 kilometres) during subsequent nesting attempts within a nesting season. In Anguilla, where some beaches are small and very close to each other, sea turtles may move between beaches. This was found to be the case for sea turtles that moved between Blackgardens Bay and Limestone Bay to nest during the 2015 nesting season. A second reason for low nesting beach fidelity could be illegal poaching activities: while there is a moratorium on the harvesting of sea turtles and their eggs in Anguilla, there have been rumours of illegal poaching and some individuals have appeared before the magistrate on such charges. Additional research must be conducted, however, to determine the reasoning behind these findings.

Eastern and central mainland beaches and those on Dog Island had highest level of sea turtle nesting activity, perhaps due to their isolated and uninhabited nature. Few nests were recorded on mainland western beaches and this may potentially be due to increased human-based threats such as noise and light pollution and vegetation removal as a result of increased coastal development. Monitoring results suggest that nesting turtles seem to prefer areas with less human interference.
Minimum and maximum numbers of sea turtles on the Anguilla mainland and Dog Islanturtle1d were estimated. Building on data collected since 2012, numbers suggest that hawksbill turtles are most abundant with minimum-maximum average of 11-77 nesting in a single year. Minimum-Maximum average number of nesting Green turtles was 11-34, and for Leatherbacks it was 2-3. An additional 14 tracks could not be identified but were still recorded as they contribute to the nesting population. Important to note is the value of Dog Island as a nesting ground: most nesting activity actually occurred on Dog Island; very little was recorded on the mainland.

Unfortunately, financial constraints prevent consistent research on most of Anguilla’s offshore cays. This means that Anguilla’s sea turtle nesting population could be larger than what it currently is, although nesting numbers are quite low for Anguilla.

Historically, sea turtles have played an integral role in the livelihoods of the Caribbean people, providing a source of food, medicines and traditional trinkets (jewellery etc). As our population has grown, so did pressure on and demand for sea turtles, leading to over-exploitation. With destruction of critical foraging and nesting turtlehabitats (coral reefs, sea grass beds and beaches) as a result of improper coastal development practices additional pressure was placed on already vulnerable turtle populations. Caribbean sea turtle populations have plummeted, leading research scientists to state that sea turtles in the Caribbean were virtually extinct.
In 1995, despite limited available knowledge of the population status of Anguilla’s sea turtles but armed with the knowledge that populations were decreasing all over the Caribbean region in addition to advocacy pressures, the Government of Anguilla applied the precautionary principle and joined the conservation effort by implementing a 25 year moratorium which runs to 2020 to protect the species and encourage population recovery. Because sea turtles reproduce quite late in their lives (20-25 years depending on the species), the moratorium allows for at least one generation reaching reproductive age. Approximately one to two hatchlings in every 1000 eggs will survive to this age.
Anguilla’s moratorium on sea turtle harvesting at a minimum reduces some pressure on the island’s small population. Other external factors including accidental catch, climate change, predation by invasive species and sand mining continue to compound the recovery of turtle populations in Anguilla. Findings from ANT research supports the maintenance of the moratorium until at least 2020 in order to continue to give sea turtles a fighting chance to recover and researchers additional time to further evaluate the effectiveness of the moratorium and identify and implement additional conservation measures should they be required. As of today, however, while there are signs of hope for Anguilla’s sea turtles, they are still under duress and need our help to ensure their survival.

– Press Release
(Published without editing by The Anguillian newspaper.)

By anguillian March 7, 2016 10:48


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