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HomeBioscienceBiologySuccess stories of sea turtle conservation throughout the east coast of Africa

Success stories of sea turtle conservation throughout the east coast of Africa

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Sea turtle conservation throughout much of Africa’s east coast has made significant headway in recent decades, but researchers estimate that tens of thousands of turtles die each year as a result of human activity.

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Experts examined data on sea turtles around the coasts of Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, and South Africa from 1965 to the present.

Growing numbers of loggerhead turtles in South Africa and Mozambique, as well as increasingly effective conservation networks, including one that covers much of Tanzania’s coast, are examples of success stories.

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However, illegal turtle hunting, bycatch (unintentional catching), and loss of breeding and feeding grounds remain serious dangers, with “conservative estimates” of tens of thousands of turtles killed annually due to human activities.

Experts from Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, and the larger Western Indian Ocean region made up the research team, which was led by the University of Exeter.

“Turtles confront numerous hazards along the African east coast, from egg to adult,” said lead author Casper van de Geer, a Ph.D. student at Exeter University’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“Our goal was to compile all of the information available about these turtles and explore ways to better conserve them in this quickly growing environment.

“We discovered that we still don’t know a lot about these turtle populations, such as how many there are or where they spend the majority of their time and move to.

“If we look at the number of clutches of eggs laid as a metric of population, we may observe that some have rebounded nicely. In South Africa and Mozambique, for example, loggerhead turtles appear to be recovering.

“However, leatherbacks in the same locations haven’t responded as favourably to conservation initiatives, implying that something in their lifecycle is preventing them from rebounding as quickly.”

The “tragic narrative” of hawksbill turtles in East Africa was mentioned by Van de Geer.

“Hawksbill turtles undoubtedly nested widely along this shore in the past 20 years, but this has almost fully stopped,” he said.

“Sea turtles often lay their eggs where they were born, making it difficult to re-establish nesting once a species has stopped doing so.

“Fortunately, these severely endangered hawksbills still nest in other locations in the Western Indian Ocean, where we believe they will be able to recover.”

The report points out that there is solid legislation in place to protect turtles, that stakeholder groups are actively involved in conservation, and that the region has both scientific and local expertise.

In response to the increasing strain on turtles due to human activities, better legal protection and greater collaboration will be required.

“Local knowledge was critical to our research, as it is to turtle conservation,” stated van de Geer.

“Conservation work is most effective when local stakeholders are involved, which can be accomplished through genuine involvement and cultural sensitivity.

“People are trained and employed as rangers or monitors in the areas where they grew up, and community theatre or musical performances are used to enlighten people about the marine world and conservation.

“People who live in a place have the knowledge and motivation to protect it in the end.”

“Thanks to the hard work and dedication of a network of community based turtle monitors in Tanzania, we have been able to identify an upward trend in nesting green turtles over the past 20 years, and the central Tanzania coast has been recognised as a site of regional importance to marine turtles,” said Lindsey West of Tanzanian conservation NGO Sea Sense.

Gladys Okemwa, a researcher at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, said: “In the East African seascape, it is critical to identify and design around critical regions used by marine turtles.

“Despite legal safeguards, the unlawful capture and consumption of marine turtles, particularly green turtles, continues in the region due to cultural values.

“Continued community engagement and support for community self-policing will aid in addressing the problem.”

“While significant progress has been made with regard to awareness, education, and law enforcement in coastal towns and villages, much work remains to be done to ensure conservation of these magnificent animals, especially offshore, where ‘ghost’ (discarded or lost) fishing gear, industrial long-liners, and plastic pollution still pose a major threat,” said Marcos Pereira of Mozambique’s NGO Centro Terra Viva.

The report, “Marine turtles of the African east coast: current knowledge and needs for conservation and research,” was published in the journal Endangered Species Research.

Further information: CHv de Geer et al, Marine turtles of the African east coast: current knowledge and priorities for conservation and research, Endangered Species Research (2022). DOI: 10.3354/esr01180

Source: University of Exeter

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