Sea Turtle Bycatch Education Project

In January 2012 Nature Seekers in partner with the Environmental Management Authority and the Wider Caribbean Sea turtle Conservation Network was successful in acquiring a planning grant from the UNDP GEF SGP for the planning of a project to reduce the bycatch of turtles in nets. This project engaged all stakeholders including fishers, CBOs and State agencies in discussions associated with understanding the issues that are influencing bycatch of sea turtles.

Rationale

Bycatch is the unintentional capture of non-target marine species during fishing – in this case, Trinidad and Tobago’s Leatherback turtles. In a national consultation organised by the Fisheries Division in the Ministry of Agriculture & Food Production and the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network a Strategic Plan was developed for eliminating incidental capture and mortality of Leatherback Turtles in net. This document highlighted and draw reference to the work of Dr. Scott Eckert (WIDECAST) and Dr. John Lien (University of Newfoundland) in 1999 in describing the extent of the problem. The plan also highlight the work of Ms. Lori Lee Lum of the Trinidad and Tobago Institute for Marine Affairs (TTIMA) which indicated in 2003 that on average, 3,000 leatherbacks are unintentionally caught in gillnets annually, with a mortality rate of 33%. Nature Seekers has confirmed through the consultation process that the problem could be even worse. The estimated leatherback nesting population in Trinidad ranges from 7,000 to 15,000 turtles. This is large relative to other leatherback colonies, but faces a significant threat if 7 – 14% of the population is eradicated each year. If this trend continues, the Leatherback population in Trinidad will be decimated in the next 10 years, similar to the Pacific Coast of Mexico which experienced a sharp reduction from 75,000 leatherbacks to less than 1,000 over a 15-year period.

Objectives

  1. To strength Nature Seekers capacity to develop and implement an awareness programme on the northeast coast of Trinidad.
  2. Developed communication tools to be used in the awareness building process.
  3. Increase the awareness of stakeholders about safe fishing practices and the benefits of protecting turtles.
  4. To inform the public about the challenges and solutions related to sea turtle bycatch and how they can help.

Expected Results

  1. Greater awareness will be created on the ways to improve the fishing industry within the region & the nation. Focus will be placed on the schools the fishers and the public
  2. Students and family of fishers will have a greater understanding of the role they play in sustaining a healthy fish population
  3. Greater understanding of the sensitive area associated with the bycatch of turtles & net fishing
  4. Education tools developed such as Website, app development, displays, participatory videos and a mascot.
  5. 300 hundred students were made aware of the challenge and benefits of fishing as a career
  6. Brochures on alternative fishing methods, bycatch developed
  7. Thirty-five (35) Fishermen/ boat owners who understand the damaging effect of gill nets fishing
  8. Downstream industry Planning Sessions implemented and database created
  9. Database of fishers & boat owners developed
  10. Alternative energy demonstration site established

Other Information

Nature Seekers constructed a project that would create awareness among local community and an advocacy intervention via social media for the country. The project also includes a gear incentive programme to support fishers with alternative equipment that would be used during the season but do not catch turtles. The third component focuses on the downstream industry where business opportunities will be identified through a business facility study to create additional income earning initiatives for fishers.

To this end Nature Seekers submitted and acquired funding for the Education and Awareness component as a standalone project to the UNDP GEF SGP. This awareness project while a part of a bigger sea turtle bycatch initiative aims at reducing sea turtle bycatch on the Northeast Coast in the area of Matura to Matelot (M2M) area. As such, this awareness will be implemented in 7 communities with plans to increase public support nationally. These communities are Matura, Salybia, Balandra, Cumana, Toco, Sans Souci, Grande Riviere and Matelot. Public awareness and training are linked to virtually all areas in Agenda 21 (UNCED 1992) and is critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of local residents to recognize and act to reduce bycatch and conserve the environment.

The education project started in February 2014 focuses on developing important communication tools to improve Nature Seekers ability to collaborate and share experiences. The project will improve Nature Seekers’ ability to reach specific targeted audiences via tools such as a website, application for smart phones and tablets, interactive education display, a participatory videos, a mascot and puppet shows.