SEA Turtle Training in Belize
Sea turtles have been swimming the Earth's oceans for more than 100 million years, but now human activities are threatening them with extinction. These charismatic and vital coral reef inhabitants are in need of concerted conservation efforts to protect and rebuild their populations.
|Participants learned how to dig
and relocate sea turtle nests.
To that end, CORAL helped to fund and facilitate a sea turtle management training for staff of the Southern Environmental Association (SEA Belize) in Placencia, Belize. SEA Belize co-manages several of Belize's protected areas that include sea turtle nesting beaches, a key venue for turtle conservation efforts.
Turtles face many threats in the ocean, but they are particularly vulnerable during nesting and hatching—the only times they are on land. Nesting females make an easy target for poachers, and turtle eggs may be dug up for food or crushed by machinery used in coastal development projects. Artificial lighting on beaches can disorient hatchlings, leading them inland where they may end up trapped in vegetation or swimming pools.
|The age of sea turtle eggs can be determined by their coloration. When
the eggs are first laid, they are transparent. As they get older, the shells calcify and become whiter in color.
The weeklong training increased the capacity of SEA Belize managers to address these problems and improve turtle nesting success. CORAL brought in two sea turtle experts, Roberto Herrera Pavon of El Colegio de la Frontera Sur and Alejandro Arenas Martinez of Flora, Fauna y Cultura de Mexico, A.C., to share their extensive knowledge with the SEA Belize team.
|Participants measure a nesting female|
The training's fieldwork component brought the team out to several different turtle nesting beaches. During night patrols, participants learned how to carefully approach nesting females to take measurements and record the number of eggs laid in a new nest. For older nests, they learned techniques for identifying the species of turtle and aging the eggs to determine the probable hatch date. They also learned how to safely move eggs from nests created in unsuitable places to new locations where their chances of survival would improve.
Based on the techniques learned in the training, SEA Belize developed a monitoring plan for the rest of the 2010 nesting season that will establish baseline data for turtle nesting in the area. Next year will see a more intensive monitoring program implemented, in which staff will camp out at the islands and patrol beaches more frequently. These efforts will not only improve hatchling survival in the short term, but will also increase our knowledge about turtle nesting behavior to further long-term conservation strategies.
"It was fantastic to learn identification and monitoring techniques and see beaches which are frequently used for nesting," said Dr. Annelise Hagan, Science Program Director for SEA Belize. "Excavating the eggs to age them was like finding buried treasure! With turtles facing an increasing number of threats, it is essential that turtle populations are closely monitored. Using these newly learnt techniques, SEA hopes to develop a local database of nesting and hatching activity, which can contribute to a regional database of turtle activity throughout Belize and in the Mesoamerican Reef area."
|Training participants and leaders after surveying Placencia Beach|
Photos by Valentine Rosado
Thanks to Dr. Annelise Hagan of SEA Belize for her comprehensive
report on the training