WILLEMSTAD — In February 2014, Curaçao took another step forward in the protection of some of the island’s most charismatic and threatened species – sea turtles. On February 18th and 19th the Secretary pro tempore of the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC), accompanied by the Dutch delegate to the IAC, of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the director of Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire met with the Curaçao Ministry of Health, Environment and Nature, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as CARMABI and Uniek Curaçao, to start the development of a monitoring program to asses the number of nesting and in-water sea turtles of Curaçao. This information will then be used to determine if sea turtles are in- or decreasing in number on Curaçao.
Now, with increased protection for sea turtles on Curaçao and the establishment of four new Ramsar sites, the banning of destructive gillnet practices went into effect in May 2014, after a five year exoneration period. However, it will still take strict enforcement of rules and regulations to control persistent illegal gillnetting.
These discussions with the IAC Secretary led to a collaborative agreement to monitor Shete Boka’s beaches throughout the sea turtle nesting season (May – December) and monitor sea turtles at one of the key feeding areas on Curaçao – Boka Ascencion. The data collected will not only track Curaçao’s sea turtle nesting trends, but will contribute to a regional dataset that monitors Caribbean population trends.
Sea turtles are long-lived species that reach sexual maturity after 20 – 30 years of age and migrate great distances at different stages of their lives. These unique life history features necessitate international cooperation and long-term monitoring programs to best understand and safeguard these endangered species.
Once amazingly abundant, Caribbean sea turtles have seen rapid decline since the time of European expansion in the Americas. Scientists estimate that in the 1600’s, over 90 million Green Turtles swam the Caribbean seas. Today the number is estimated at 300,000. Hawksbills have plunged 99.7% from 11 million to 30,000. Both Green Turtles and Hawksbills nest on Curaçao.
Today, fishing gear entanglement, illegal harvesting, coastal development, marine pollution and climate change are still putting serious pressure on sea turtle populations, which remain threatened with extinction not only in the Caribbean, but across the globe.
To learn more about or get involved with Curaçao sea turtle conservation contact the Ministry of Health, Environment and Nature, CARMABI or Sea Turtle Conservation Curacao (STCC).
Source: Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance | Posted in: Curaçao News, News, Sea Turtle Conservation News
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Proceeds Support STCC Programs
Sea Turtle Conservation Curacao (STCC) is a volunteer based CARMABI program. The main objective of the program is to collect data that can support national and international decision making to achieve effective sea turtle conservation.
Additionally, STCC works to increase local support for sea turtle and marine conservation through public awareness activities and leading by example through organizing beach cleanups.
STCC monitors a number of index beaches on the Western side of Curacao in it Shete Boka national park; these beaches were selected as there was historical data available for these sites. The monitoring has also been expanded to include a number of other beaches on the Western side of Curacao and Klein Curacao a small uninhabited island that lies South East of Curacao. The monitoring on Klein Curacao has shown that this is an important nesting beach for green sea turtles on Curacao. Along with the regular monitoring STCC has also initiated a beach keeper program that is run by motivated volunteers and collects data at a number of sites at Caracasbaai which is located close to Willemstad.
In water netting surveys
STCC has in cooperation with researchers from the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen done netting surveys at several sites around the island. STCC intends to continue these surveys with support from Bonaire to collect data that is comparable to that collected by Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire (STCB) to increase the opportunity for inter-island data comparisons for parameters such as growth rates and incidence rates of fibropapilloma tumors.
In water surveys using GPS equipped cameras
STCC is currently developing a volunteer in water survey program that uses water proof GPS equipped cameras to map sea turtle distribution and density. The cameras allow for accurately identifying the areas where sea turtles, rays and sharks are sighted. Additionally the cameras allow snorkelers to log their movements so that the geographic area surveyed and the amount of time spent surveying is recorded. Any volunteer equipped with such a camera and a basic understanding of survey methodologies should be capable of doing such a survey independently. Depending on the snorkeling ability of the volunteer and the quality of the photographs STCC also intends to start using facial recognition methods to identify the individual sea turtles sighted during surveys to assess population sizes and home ranges of individual turtles. Finally, STCC intends to map relevant pressures to see where the presence of sea turtles and anthropogenic pressures intersect in order to formulate advice on how the Curacao government can better protect local sea turtles.
In order to collect more data on pressures affecting sea turtles around Curacao STCC records sea turtle stranding and attempts to identify causes of death or stress through visual inspections and autopsies.
STCC undertakes various activities to raise public awareness, it currently has a exposition about sea turtles at the Savonet Museum within the Christoffel Park. Other awareness activities include presentations for school children and an active web presence through the STCC Facebook Page and STCC Instagram Page.
Beach and underwater cleanups
In order to decrease the risk of plastic ingestion and entanglement by sea turtles and to increase nesting success STCC organizes regular beach cleanups. The beach and underwater cleanups both contribute to a cleaner environment and serve as a way to raise awareness about the issue of marine debris and ghost nets. One major achievement of STCC in conjunction with partners such as Curacao Clean Up has been to clean almost the entire coast of Klein Curacao of marine litter which is expected to increase nesting success of green turtles on the island.
Video courtesy of Curious 2 Dive