Sea Turtle Conservation Programme

Programme Description

This programme is designed to increase the populations of turtles nesting in Trinidad and Tobago and  enhance the capacity of the community, to advocate for the conservation of these vulnerable species. The emphasis will be to increase hatchling production and decrease mortality of nesting females. The focus will be on creating the right conditions to increase nesting activities on the beaches and using tourism to establish social enterprise and provide life changing experiences, while improving the management of sea turtles. The programme will also focus on reducing the bycatch of turtle in nets. It is our approach to work with the fishers and other stakeholders to improve the conditions for effective use of alternative fishing equipment instead of nets. Our approach would be to implement the following principal strategies:

It is Nature Seekers position that the overall goal of any conservation plan for sea turtles promote the long-term survival of sea turtle population, including the sustained recovery of depleted stocks, the safeguarding of critical habitat and the integration and well being of local communities. In the simplest terms, Nature Seekers is seeking to increase the birth rate and decrease the death rate of marine turtles.

Thus we propose to improve the population of sea turtles by focusing our efforts in the following areas:

Problem Description 1

The foundation upon which all management decisions are based must include an accurate assessment of population size, including a determination of whether population are stable, increasing, or declining. Index habitats (intensive study areas designated to include major nesting and foraging grounds) should be monitored at intervals consistent with the population dynamics over the period of at least one generation.

Proposed Action: We propose to continue to partner with WIDECAST, TVT and the Forestry Division in monitoring the population of turtles nesting on the beaches.

This will be done by utilizing tagging as a primary method for data collection on nesting females on a nightly basis.  As in previous years, all sea turtles encountered during patrols will be tagged. Each turtle will leave the beach with two flipper tags and one PIT tag after nesting.  The goal is to tag as many turtles as possible over the course of this period. We propose to employ 6 persons in OROSCO and 4 persons in RINCON conducting these patrols on a nightly basis, during the hours of 7:00 pm to 3:00 am. Depending on the tidal movement and the weather conditions, the patrols may end activities between 1:00am and 3:00am.

A daily morning survey by one staff member on each beach will continue.  All body PITs will be counted and then marked to avoid counting the next day. This will be done using GPS units to store the data. A high tide track line will continue to be captured during this process.

Problem Description 2

Nesting females and hatchlings encounter tough conditions on the beaches created by the impact of beach erosion, seaweed build-up and debris from nearby rivers. These conditions are created by the impact of beach erosion, seaweed build-up and debris from nearby rivers.

Beach Erosion: Over the last 5 years there has been an increase in the level of erosion on Matura Beach. The changes in the ocean dynamic has resulted in a significant amount of beach and vegetation loss which impacts on the success of the turtle season.  Beach erosion accounts for a significant number of nests lost each year and accessibility to major parts of the nesting becomes impaired and therefore hinders the tagging and data collection.  There is no credible information that could be used to quantify the number of losses. Overall the wider Caribbean beach loss is very significant and has impacted the population of turtles to alarming levels. Essentially less hatchlings leaving the shores could impact future populations of turtles nesting in T&T.

Seaweed Buildup: There has been an unprecedented increase in the amount of seaweed currently accumulated on the beaches of the East coast. This creates a number of challenges to both nesting turtles and hatchlings alike.  Nesting Leatherbacks are unable to acquire suitable areas for laying their eggs, as the seaweed blocks their path with seaweed pileup of over 4 ft in some areas. Emerging hatchlings are also becoming trapped within the seaweed, which makes it very difficult for them as they make their way out to the ocean. Some hatchlings were brought back to the shore by the heavy seaweed, and eventually died.

Proposed Action: Creating the best conditions for nesting turtles to successfully deposit their eggs and hatch successfully is a priority. This requires the implementation of natural erosion controls. To manage the challenge of beach access to the visiting public Nature Seekers will cut and maintain a back track and improve the path on the south side of the entrance of Matura Beach.

Another critical strategy is to engage in major and continuous beach cleaning efforts towards removing seaweed and other debris from the path of nesting females and hatchlings.

Problem Description 3

Bycatch: Based on the results of a study by the Trinidad and Tobago Institute for Marine Affairs in 2003, more than 3,000 leatherbacks are entangled in coastal gill nets each year, and 1,000 of those leatherbacks die. One fisher reported that for the year 2011, 139 leatherbacks were caught in his net, 90 of which died. Sea turtles become entangled accidentally by fishing gear that is intended for valuable target species. Population that are subject to bycatch can decline over short timescales (i.e. decades), often without detection.

Proposed Action: In light of the challenge, Nature Seekers, in conjunction with the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) and other stakeholders have designed the Trinidad Northeast Coast Fishery Management, Livelihood Development and Bycatch Reduction Project. The project is geared towards reducing the incidental gill net capture of marine turtles off the northeast coast of Trinidad.

This programme  aims to monitor and analyse NE Trinidad bycatch levels while simultaneously offering alternative gear types to reduce the bycatch level and to test the efficiency of each gear type.

This initiative was developed out of the recommendation of the Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plan (STRAP) “that Government develop and adopt policies that restrict the use of fishing techniques that demonstrate high levels of bycatch, and promote viable alternatives that minimize bycatch and protect fisher livelihoods, as well as the banning of gill nets in inter-nesting areas.”