Study says climate change, water sports posing threat to sea turtles

A new study conducted by the University of Exeter has found that climate change and water sports are posing a threat to sea turtles.

The study, published in the journal Endangered Species Research, shows that tens and thousands of sea turtles are dying every year.

During the research, scientists reviewed the evidence about sea turtles from the last 57 years along the coast of Kenya, Somalia, Mozambique, South Africa, and Tanzania.

According to the study’s leading author Casper van de Geer, a Ph.D. student at the Center for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, “Turtles face many threats along the African east coast, from egg to adult.”

“Our aim was to bring together everything that is currently known about these turtles and to identify opportunities to better protect them in this rapidly developing region. We found that there’s still a lot we don’t know about these turtle populations, like how many there actually are or where they spend most of their time and migrate to.”

“If we use clutches of eggs laid as a measure of population, then we see that some have recovered well in some places. For example, loggerhead turtles appear to be recovering in South Africa and Mozambique. However, leatherbacks in the same areas have not responded as positively to conservation efforts—suggesting there’s something going on in their lifecycle that’s stopping them from bouncing back as quickly,” Geer added.

Kenyan waters are host to the green, loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback, and olive ridley turtles. The most frequently encountered off Tiwi and Diani beaches south of Mombasa are the hawksbill turtle and green turtles.

Sometimes Kenyan people are lucky enough to get a rare sighting of loggerheads or leatherbacks. But these sea turtles face a multitude of obstacles to their survival.

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“Local knowledge was key to this research, just as it is vital to turtle conservation,” explained Van De Geer.

“Conservation work is most effective when it is supported by the local stakeholders and this is achieved through genuine engagement and cultural sensitivity.”

“There are great examples of this along the African east coast where people are trained and employed as rangers or monitors in the area where they grew up, and the use of community theater or musical performances to inform people about the marine world and conservation. Ultimately, it’s the people who live in a place who have the knowledge and motivation to protect it,” he concluded.

Also read | Scientists find new fossils of car-sized prehistoric turtle in South America

”There is an urgent need to identify and plan around essential areas used by marine turtles in the East African seascape,” said Gladys Okemwa, of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute.

“Despite legal protection measures, illegal take and consumption of marine turtles, particularly green turtles, still persists in the region due to cultural values. Sustained community engagement and support towards community self-policing will help to make strides in tackling the issue.”

“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 the conservation of these magnificent animals, especially offshore, where ‘ghost’ (discarded or lost) fishing gear, industrial long-liners and plastic pollution still constitute a major threat,” said Marcos Pereira, of NGO Centro Terra Viva in Mozambique.

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