Thursday, September 22, 2011

Update on the satellite tagging project in Cape Verde

Observing platform sea turtle

– A new interdisciplinary research project at IFM-GEOMAR -
August 18, 2011, Kiel / Mindelo. In a new interdisciplinary research project, marine scientists from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR) in Kiel, Germany study the dynamics of the world's third largest nesting population of the endangered loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) on the Cape Verde islands and the mechanisms and genetics of their reproduction. Using data loggers and satellite communication, the scientists can track a number of turtles. In addition a number of sensors provide the opportunity to measure a range of physical and chemical parameters during several months. The first experiments started this summer in time of the reproduction period until autumn.
Worldwide, the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) is an endangered species (IUCN red list). Due to fishing activities, environmental pollution, climate change, tourism and hunting the loggerhead turtle populations are under pressure. The population on Cape Verde is the third-largest nesting aggregation worldwide. Hunting is still a very serious issue, although attempts have been made to protect the population. In 2007 alone, on the island of Boavista around 1,150 female turtles were killed as they came ashore to lay eggs. In that year, this corresponded to 15-30% of the total nesting population of the Cape Verde islands. By selling the turtle meat, hunters may obtain up to 150 Euros per turtle, which corresponds to an average monthly salary on Cape Verde.
To support the protection of the sea turtles was one but not the only reason for marine scientists at the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR) in Kiel, Germany to launch a special research project on Cape Verde. The French evolutionary biologist Dr. Christophe Eizaguirre from IFM-GEOMAR wanted to study the genetics of the population to find out whether it is isolated or a stepping–stone between the other populations in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Even within the Cape Verde population their movements and relationships are still unclear. In cooperation with the NGO “Turtle Foundation”, Dr. Eizaguirre, obtained 2-3mm skin samples from 120 turtles for a genetic analysis. “This data base provides us a basis for our investigation”, says Eizaguirre. “From that we have learned that the Cape Verde population is genetically differentiated from both Floridian and Mediterranean populations. This means that reproduction takes place within Cape Verde demes. Additionally, genetic diversity, a crucial measure of population viability, is still high despite the threats the turtles have to face. This might be maintained by the exceptional mating system the turtles have evolved. Genetic analyses of hatchlings revealed that females mate with multiple males thus decreasing risks of inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity”.
Now Eizaguirre has started a second phase of the project. Together with the marine biochemist Björn Fiedler (PhD student) and the physical oceanographer Prof. Kanzow, he designed a unique observational programme. Three turtles from the Boavista island and three from Sao Vicente were equipped with a satellite transmitter and a number of sensors which measure a number of parameters: GPS position, pressure (equivalent for diving depth), temperature, salinity and some also dissolved oxygen. Thus, the turtles serve as a multidisciplinary measuring platform with similar functions as the gilders used by other groups at IFM-GEOMAR. After the first three weeks of the experiments Eizaguirre is very optimistic: “The data quality is very good, diving depths reported range from 10 to 100 metres”. He hopes that the sensors will remain on the turtles since they will try to remove it. “The instruments are very robust and with costs between 7,000 – 12,000 Euros for each sensor still affordable. In the vicinity of the islands we do have a good chance to retrieve them”. Currently his PhD student Victor Stiebens is on Cape Verde to obtain further samples from the turtles. „During the nesting period from mid July to September, there is a good chance to find nesting female turtles on the beach”, says Eizaguirre. But it is also a dangerous time for the volunteers who protect the turtles and the researchers. “Last year we were threatened by hunters with a machete. Thus, we are very grateful to Christian Roder from the Turtle Foundation and his team that supports our work as well as the authorities and the Cape Verdian marine research institute INDP who without such a project would not be possible“, Eizaguirre concluded.
The project was supported by special funds provided by the Leibniz association (WGL).

For original article, with pictures:  Loggerhead satellite tracking project

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cape Verde's Loggerhead Turtles Receive Endangered Status

Since 1978, Loggerhead turtles have been considered "Threatened" throughout their range.  In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service split loggerhead turtles into 9 separate populations for conservation efforts.  Today, 5 of those populations were designated as "Endangered", a status indicating the population is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significan portion of its range.  All sea turtles are either endangered or threatened, the latter meaning that the species is declining and is likely to beome endangered in the foreseeable future.

Cape Verde's loggerhead population is in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean DPS.

The population designations are as follows:
ESA Threatened- (ESA = Endangered Species Act)
(1) Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPS (DPS = Distinct Population Segment)
(2) South Atlantic Ocean DPS
(3) Southeast Indo-Pacific Ocean DPS
(4) Southwest Indian Ocean DPS
ESA Endangered-
(5) Northeast Atlantic Ocean DPS
(6) Mediterranean Sea DPS
(7) North Indian Ocean DPS
(8) North Pacific Ocean DPS
(9) South Pacific Ocean DPS

For more see: 5 loggerhead sea turtle populations are endangered

Friday, September 16, 2011

Some good news: Accidental sea turtle deaths drop 90% in U.S. fisheries.

ScienceDaily (Sep. 14, 2011) — The number of sea turtles accidentally caught and killed in fishing gear in United States coastal waters has declined by an estimated 90 percent since 1990, according to a new study by researchers at Duke University Project GloBAL and Conservation International.

The report, published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation, credits the dramatic drop to measures that have been put into place over the last 20 years to reduce bycatch in many fisheries, as well as to overall declines in U.S. fishing activity.
The study's authors estimate that 4,600 sea turtles die each year in U.S. coastal waters.
Before measures to reduce bycatch were put in place, total sea turtle takes surpassed 300,000 annually. Of these, 70,000 turtles were killed.
The study used data collected from 1990 to 2007 by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to determine bycatch rates across more than 20 fisheries operating in Atlantic waters from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border, and in the Pacific Ocean, along the West coast and around Hawaii.
It found that overall turtle bycatch rates, including both fatal and nonfatal run-ins, have fallen about 60 percent since 1990.
Shrimp trawls in the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern U.S. accounted for up to 98 percent of all by-catch takes and deaths during the study period.

For more info and the rest of the article:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Follow up on the quad issue on Boa Vista

An article in the Portuguese newspaper A Semana describes meetings that will lead to greater restrictions on the use of quads on Boa Vista, including setting up routes that the quads may use without disturbing turtles or sensitive dunes and vegetation.  The article is in Portuguese, but a rough translation is below.  The article appears at:  A Semana article about quad bikes on Boa Vista.

From A Semana, online Portuguese news.Quad bikes to have their own routes on Boa Vista
 September 11, 2011
The four-wheel motorcycles will have their own routes on Boa Vista as part of a measure to put a stop to the unbridled and unrestricted movement of these vehicles, used mainly for sightseeing. Finally there has been response to farmers in the interior who saw their fields ruined by quads, and environmentalists who have complained over and over about turtle nests wiped out by these four-wheeled monsters. For years regulations on the use of quads was unenforced, and the problem has increased dramatically as tourism increases.  Despite a regulation that prohibits the use of quads less than eighty yards from the seafront, beaches are invaded by the noisy caravans, often destroying the nests of turtles, and even agricultural areas, especially in the
Povoação Velha area.

To satisfy the demands of residents and environmentalists and put an end to this situation a commission was set up to set a route for such vehicles in all the protected areas and agricultural areas. The route should be outlined by representatives of SDTIBM, Town Hall, National Police, Office of the Ministry of Environment and turtle protection organizations.

The meeting took place between the entities at the end of August and this week the paths for the quads should be decided. The commission went to visit the beaches of Varandinha, Santa Monica, Lacacão, Curral Velho and Boa Esperança to identify and define the regulation. "Further, the route comes with an operational plan for monitoring that will involve several institutions," said Nadir Almeida delegate Maritime Boa Vista.

With the route ready, the commission shall make known to the fleet of motorcycle rental agencies operating in Boa Vista. "We will deliver roadmaps for agencies to hire tour guides who know the roads well," Nadir Almeida said there will be additional information panels installed on the paths.

The supervision will be tightened, says the delegation, which also announced severe measures in order to protect the dunes and the sea turtles that nest between June and October on the pristine beaches of Boa Vista. "Whoever fails to comply will have to cope with heavy fines," concludes the representative of the agency responsible for the coastline.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Trading english classrooms for a turtle camp

From Lynnette Miller,

The first time I saw a turtle lay eggs was a magical night for me. Lying silently, breathlessly behind the turtle, watching this intimate process on the beautiful beach at Lacacao camp.

I came to Boa Vista to teach, but I have learned more here than I ever could have hoped.

For me, having lived in Cape Verde for a year but having no experience with turtles or environmental initiatives, I was so ecstatic to get this opportunity to go on patrols, see the turtles, and take part in this amazing project.

Classroom turns to beach and beach becomes our classroom as I finish my first year as a Peace Corps volunteer high school English teacher in a village outside Praia and suddenly find myself in Boa Vista, working with Turtle Foundation to teach English to Cape Verdean employees at turtle camps. But the desks have disappeared. Our day classroom becomes a nightly turtle patrol.

“What is this?” “It’s a track! That is the attempt, and the turtle went back to the sea. It’s a half-moon.”

The night continues. Walking along the sand glowing white in the moonlight. By day, we work on English with a whiteboard in a tent. By night, the turtles are our teachers. Later, we take the classroom to the tourists, to practice in real-life situations educating about turtle nesting and conservation.

Now, as I return to my island, Santiago, I am inspired. Inspired by the people I met, the work I did, the things I learned at turtle camp. I am motivated to bring this back to my village, my island, where turtle meat is a specialty. When I returned to inform my neighbors that I spent the summer working with turtles, the first question from everyone was “Isn’t turtle meat delicious!? Or was it the eggs….I heard they’re tasty but never tried…” No! We were protecting turtles. See my pictures! Let me tell you why we need to protect, not kill and eat the turtles…

So, as the summer comes to an end, I’m back to “real life” at my Peace Corps site, with new plans to teach my kids not only English but about their environment, and getting them excited about taking care of and preserving their beautiful country and the wildlife that shares the land and the sea with them.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Quad bike tours on the beaches of Boavista - READ THIS before you rent one, or book a tour...

After a short trip to Varandinha and Santa Mónia beaches, it was appalling the see the quantity of quad bikes and cars on these beaches! Some people have turned these beaches into real motorways, regardless of the the fact that riding quads on the beaches is not only forbidden, but it is also detrimental for sea turtle nesting beaches.

Recently, guides serving the Marine Club in Sal Rei drove at least 8 cars through Curral Velho beach, destroying nests on their way to the nearby beach of João Barrosa, ironically to show nesting turtles at night time... This beach has also been heavily used as a road by locals, tourists and possibly independent tour companies. Other problem areas include Boa Esperança beach, and all the local beaches around Sal Rei. Its time to put a stop to it!!

Turtle Foundation and several other entities have been meeting in the last week in order to define quad bike and car routes to the most important touristic spots in the islands, in such a way that tourists still have easy access and views of the beaches, without entering them with their vehicles. This initiative will involve placing official signs in most entry points, informative signs, route signaling and media campaign.

However, it is important to spread the message around: IT IS ILLEGAL TO DRIVE MOTORIZED VEHICLES ON THE BEACHES!

Please keep this is mind:

- If you want to rent a quad bike or car, follow this rule at all times, and try to stay well in well-defined roads - DON'T DRIVE OFF ROAD, especially not in the dunes and beaches

- If you join a quad tour, make sure your guide follows these rules, if they don't, talk to the company or make a complaint to the police or Turtle Foundation.

Please help spread the word, this is important not only for the preservation of delicate dune ecosystems, but as well as the sea turtle nesting beaches. Be a responsible tourist or resident, and start making the difference. Thank you!!!

Note: Pictures used were found on the internet, both used to publicize quad tours in Boa Vista island!!!! Obviously there's a lot of work to do ahead...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Race to save the nests in Lacacão beach

The last week has seen an increase in ocean swell, causing the innundation most of the beaches in Boavista.

Lacacão beach is notorious and well known for its total innundation several times a year. When this occurs during the middle of the nesting season, it can cause caos and destruction on the nesting beach. Many nests get either washed away, or fully innundated, causing the death of the embryos. To our dismay, the sea this week started eating away the beach, with 3-4m waves getting dangerously close to our hatchery and surrounding area, where we have at least 50% of the nests relocated.

This year, given the potential impact of the lights of the hotel, and increased traffic of both people and quads on the beach, Turtle Foundation embarked on an intense nest relocation program, trying to save as many nests as possible from threats such as light, compaction and inundation.

The results have been great. Most of the nests were saved from the stormy sea, two have already hatched with more than 80% success rate! But many were innundated, and damage to the nests is yet to be assessed. However, the excavation of some of the nests affected by the waves revealed very high hatching success rate, and we are pleased to see that those nests due to hatch were little affected. In any case, it was 3 very stressful days of digging ditches, and monitoring the water table rise and the incoming tides.

Well done to all the Lacacão team, for all the work saving these nests!

Turtle Foundation featured in Year of the Turtle newsletter

2011 has been the Year of the Turtle, hosted by PARC (Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation) and turtle conservation groups.  Most of the articles and events have been about terrestrial turtles and tortoises, but of course sea turtles are turtles, too!  An article about Turtle Foundation and our work appears in the September newsletter on page 5:

Year of the Turtle September Newsletter